Riyadh: For a long time, organizations such as the World Bank, the UN Development Programme and Transparency International, not to mention respected academics and authors, have thoroughly studied the corrosive effects of corruption.
They have concluded in countless studies that corruption not only acts as a drag on development and a country’s ability to attract investors, but also erodes confidence in state institutions. It breeds disrespect for the rule of law and shakes the moral fiber of any society. It is therefore not surprising that Saudi Arabia’s largest anti-corruption campaign in recent history, launched on Nov. 4, has received accolades far and wide. The fact that the campaign has been conducted through a transparent legal process reassures everyone that the rights of those detained will be safeguarded, and that the investigation is going to be thorough and fair.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has announced that more than 200 individuals — senior princes, officials and businessmen — had been detained in the first week of the investigation, and 1,200 accounts frozen. The charges include bribery, embezzlement, money laundering and misuse of public funds. As in any such large-scale investigation, some of those detained may be released for various reasons, re-detained or set free, and new suspects detained, depending on the evidence and direction of the investigation.
Saudis by and large were supportive, even jubilant, over the launch of this campaign, something for which they had been hoping for decades. They had been waiting for such bold action because they knew that corruption not only besmirched the good name of their country, but was corroding the social fabric. At a time of belt-tightening, it no longer made sense to tolerate corrupt officials and businessmen who were enjoying their ill-gotten gains while millions were sweating it out to make a living. Many young people went without jobs or secure income because a few corrupt individuals had helped themselves to funds meant for development.
Young Saudis in particular have been buoyed by a campaign that has restored their faith in their future and the future of their country. If they had any doubts about the path of development, those doubts have been eased. They are hopeful that from now on there will be a level playing field, without nepotism, favoritism or financial corruption. There were supportive reactions from key allies, too, and from international organizations concerned about corruption and its corrosive effects on development.
Young Saudis in particular have been buoyed by a campaign that has restored their faith in their future and the future of their country.
With such support for Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption campaign, one should not be much concerned about some discordant voices that cast aspersions on it. Some were simply naive or misinformed. Others are political adversaries of Saudi Arabia or self-interested parties who had benefited from the previously permissive atmosphere of doing business in Saudi Arabia, and as such could be negatively affected by the campaign. For example, some of those critics complained about detention without trial, when in fact most legal traditions and jurisdictions in the US and Europe allow pre-trial detention without bail, especially where there is a risk of flight or other factors that may jeopardize their trial appearance. Some critics used to decry Saudi Arabia’s previously tolerant attitude towards corruption, but are now upset that a campaign has been launched against it.
Although the arrests are based on lengthy investigations, some going back years, the anti-corruption drive is only starting. The public prosecutor is providing a steady flow of information about the detentions, releases and measures taken against the suspects. For example, several minor figures have already been released, indicating that the process is evidence-based and fair.
The best approach to get the most out of this campaign is through a transparent legal process. Because most corrupt officials made their fortunes by ignoring the due process of the law, it is now important to restore respect for the rule of law in dealing with them. Stolen public funds have to be returned, clearly. Fines and remedies have to be paid. Punishments have to be meted out where legally justified. At the same time, those cleared of wrongdoing should be able to resume their normal lives. Lessons can be fully learned when all these procedures are carried out in the most open and transparent fashion. That way, young people, in particular, will learn the most from this process.
• Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Twitter: @abuhamad1