Addressing corruption: A week in the Bahrain Parliament
9 – 15 Apr 2015
The 14 April parliamentary session was mainly devoted to the annual Financial Audit Bureau report. The Parliament’s Financial Committee headed by Isa al-Kooheji spent several weeks discussing this document and eventually recognized 51 violations across a number of government departments which appeared to be of a “criminal nature”.
There were also a number of cases where the Committee recommended interrogating ministers and setting up committees for conducting further investigations. At the end of the debate, a strong majority of 33 MPs voted in favour of the Finance Committees recommendations.
Over the past months MPs have been signaling a shift in attitude to the abuse of public funds. Deputies have stressed the need for harsh action to be taken, demonstrating a more severe position in comparison with previous parliaments, which were criticized by the public for failing to convincingly address allegations of corruption.
Parliament’s decision this week represents a strong signal of the determination of deputies to force government bodies to prevent the wastage of public funds and hold corrupt officials to account.
Several MPs, including Khalid al-Shaer, criticized the fact that ministers who had left their posts could not be summoned for questioning by MPs, as a result of “constraints imposed by the previous Parliament”.
The use of foreign brokers to send Bahrainis abroad for healthcare at substantial expense came in for heavy criticism by a number of MPs. Adel al-Asoumi noted “massive violations” in the Health Ministry, particularly with regard to treatment abroad. “We should not remain sitting in this Chamber if we don’t interrogate the Health Minister” he added.
Sunni cleric Nabil al-Balooshi during his parliamentary comments cited the Quranic quote “Do not give your wealth to the foolish”. He said that every minister should prepare to be interrogated over wastage of funds and violations, which he said should have been for the poor and widows. “The screams of deputies will not change the reality” Al-Balooshi concluded.
Finance Minister Shaikh Ahmed Al Khalifa spoke extensively during the session, claiming an 80% fall in the number of cases of criminality raised in the report, in comparison with previous years. However, these comments were strongly criticized by MPs.
Mohammed al-Ammadi said that the Finance Minister’s claims of corruption levels being reduced by 80% were “inaccurate… The reduction in the number of violations doesn’t mean a reduction in levels of corruption”. Jamal Buhassan said that the Finance Minister shouldn’t play down the significance of the levels of corruption cited in the report.
Mohammed al-Jowder, said that it was ministers, not “ordinary employees” who should be held accountable. He said that ministers were failing to take urgent action and said that the Finance Minister himself should be held accountable. He asked how the Minister could claim that there wasn’t “wastage” – “Should we call it theft then?”
Mohammed al-Ahmed stressed that the Bahraini public had high expectations for Parliament in addressing this report. He asked why the Ministers of Health and Transport had not attended the session, despite them being singled out as requiring interrogation. He questioned why the Government had only transferred five cases to the Public Prosecutor, when the parliamentary Financial Committee had cited 50 cases requiring referral.
Despite the criticisms raised during this session regarding the performance of several government departments, the agreement on the decisive actions to be taken reflects a growing official consensus of the need to address corruption and financial violations.
Although some of the cases raised will cause embarrassment in certain official bodies, there is recognition of the damage to public credibility by the perceived failure to address these issues in the past.
To many MPs who made ambitious election campaign pledges about enforcing their monitoring role, their reputations stand on their determination to follow up on these issues and increase standards of good governance.