More publicity needed on Côte d’Ivoire battle against graft

2021-08-16

Côte d’Ivoire has been actively fighting corruption for almost a decade. Under President Alassane Ouattara there has been significant legal and institutional capacity building, and the country continues to experience economic growth.

However not all state officials are on the same page. For many, the temptation of personal gain outweighs the national need, and corruption that links state-embedded actors to criminal networks, especially cross-border trafficking routes remains problematic. This not only hurts the country’s economy, and its attempts to root out graft but also threatens regional stability.

In 2012, Côte d’Ivoire ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the only legally binding international anti-corruption multilateral treaty, along with the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Another important policy intervention was digitising government systems to increase transparency and accountability across all departments.

For many state officials the temptation of personal profit outweighs the desire for a clean reputation for Côte d’Ivoire

Institutionally, the government established the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG) to coordinate responses against corruption together with specialised regulatory and law enforcement units. These include the Anti-Corruption Brigade and the Special Unit for Combating Customs Smuggling in the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Anti-Smuggling Unit in the Ministry of the Interior and Security.

These units are mandated to work with the Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance and Capacity Building in the Fight against Corruption, which was established as part of the Ouattara government’s 2020 re-election pledge.

Despite these anti-corruption measures, the ENACT Organised Crime Index shows how links between state actors and international criminal syndicates continue to facilitate numerous crimes, including illegal gold mining and logging, contraband smuggling, money laundering, and the trafficking of children, drugs, and endangered animals.

Attempts to rein in those guilty of graft have revealed worrying trends

For instance, four Italian nationals, with links to the Neapolitan mafia, were convicted on 5 February 2021 of trafficking cocaine from Brazil. Each was sentenced to 20 years in prison and a CFAF100 million (US$184 000) fine, but a policewoman who was tried with them was acquitted.  Her connection to the convicts, revealed in the trial, raised uncomfortable questions about the links between state officials and organised criminal groups.

Incidents of arms and drug trafficking among inmates at Abidjan’s maximum-security prison are reportedly been facilitated by current and retired officers with connections to criminal networks. Corruption also plays a role in the illegal fishing market. A recent report shows that the irregular practices of Chinese crews along the country’s coast, which contravene Ivorian maritime and labour laws, are enabled by graft and lax law enforcement.

Examples like these make Ivorians skeptical of the government’s ability to curb graft. The 2020 Afrobarometer Index showed that 69% of Ivorians felt the government was performing ‘fairly badly’ or ‘very badly’ in the fight against corruption, compared to 59% in 2017.

The index also revealed that Ivorians perceived government officials to be corrupt, especially the police and gendarmes, followed by magistrates, customs officers, and officials in the Presidency.

A National Institute of Statistics study on governance identified the tax department, treasury, judiciary, and the education sector as the government agencies in Côte d’Ivoire most affected by corruption.

Another important policy intervention was digitising government systems to increase transparency and accountability across all departments

The HABG took its first graft case to court in 2018. However little has been made public about the proceedings and outcomes of this or other HABG’s corruption cases.  

‘Quite a number of cases have been determined in court but they need to be publicised to sensitise the public and achieve deterrence,’ Julien Tingain, president of Social Justice (Transparency International’s collaborating partner in Cote d’Ivoire), told ENACT.  Tingain said rulings in corruption cases should be made public as the HABG must be seen to be effective to regain Ivorians trust in the government's commitment to prevent and root out graft.

As mentioned above, the recent establishment of a ministry portfolio dedicated to this, that complements the HABG should ideally result in more concerted anti-corruption efforts with results becoming more apparent with actions that bring perpetrators to book.

Prioritising such an offensive against corruption during his new term in office, Ouattara is now in a position to see the initiatives and measures he put in place earlier in his rule bear fruit.  

Deo Gumba, Research Consultant, ENACT Project, ISS

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