Survey Finds Bribery Runs Highest Among Courts in Mideast

In the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, 77 percent of respondents said they had to pay a bribe to access public services

A new report released on Tuesday by an anti-corruption watchdog shows that on average, almost a third of the people in nine countries surveyed in the Middle East have had to pay a bribe to access some kind of public service.

The poll by Transparency International also found that courts have the worst bribery rate out of six services that were surveyed.

The watchdog interviewed nearly 11,000 people — or about 1,200 people in each of the nine countries — and found that bribery was especially rampant in Yemen.

In the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, 77 percent of respondents said they had to pay a bribe to access public services. The interviews in Yemen were carried out before the start of March 2015 Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels, after which the country's crisis descended into war.

Around 50 percent of people surveyed in Egypt, Sudan and Morocco said they paid bribes for public services.

Transparency International also surveyed people in Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. The poll was carried out in direct interviews at various times in 2014 and 2015, and gave a 3 percent margin of error.

Public anger over corruption among government officials, social inequality and the lack of justice and transparency were catalysts of the 2011 Arab Spring movements that ousted longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

Transparency International's chief Jose Ugaz said that failing to stop bribery also affects people's human rights.

"It's as if the Arab Spring never happened," he said in a statement accompanying the report.

The poll results show that on average, almost one in three people surveyed paid bribes in dealings with courts, while one in four paid bribes to police — and around half or more of those who paid bribes to the courts and police had to pay multiple times.

About one in five people surveyed said they had to pay a bribe for public medical services. In Morocco, that figure was 38 percent.

Transparency International noted the case of a man who called the watchdog's local anti-corruption hotline after he was told by a nurse to pay $60 in addition to the hospital fee for his partially blind daughter to get an urgent brain scan. He was advised to call the attorney general's office and two undercover officers returned with him to the hospital, where the nurse was arrested and imprisoned for two months.

Around 30 percent of people polled in Lebanon said they paid a bribe for public services, while a staggering 92 percent said they thought corruption had increased. The Lebanon part of the survey was conducted before an eight-month-long trash collection crisis erupted in July 2015. Thousands protested and campaigners blamed corruption and government paralysis for the delay in solving the problem.

Speaking to The Associated Press over the telephone, Middle East regional coordinator for Transparency International Kinda Hattar said the institutions of justice and law enforcement should be the least corrupt because they should be the ones prosecuting corruption.

"Unless the government and the state work for the independence of the judiciary ... then we will not be able to have a system that builds trust with the people," she said.

Though only nine percent in Tunisia and four percent of respondents in Jordan said they paid a bribe in the year preceding the survey, Hattar said there are often other problems that exist in Mideast countries that cannot be quantified and measured in surveys.

One such issue, she said, is nepotism, or what is known as a "wasta" in Arabic. Getting a job or gaining access to public services can depend on a person's "wasta," or relationship with someone who is well-connected.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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