There has been controversy in the Egyptian political and media scenes. This time, it was caused by media statements made by Hesham Geneina, head of the Central Auditing Organisation (CAO), the most important regulatory body in Egypt. Geneina claimed corruption within government institutions cost Egypt over EGP 600bn in 2015 before he sent out a correction to a newspaper saying that that was the cost of corruption over four years, not just one.
As a response, the Egyptian presidency formed a committee of other government regulatory agencies to investigate the validity of the figure and the methodology by which Geneina estimated it. The committee then came out to say the numbers were sketchy and declared accusations against Geneina. This prompted a media and parliamentary war against the CAO head that was countered by a campaign against state agencies.
Amid the noise of battle, many facts were lost. It looked like yet another case of the polarisation taking place in Egypt for the past five years. Geneina’s remarks and the report of the presidential committee became fodder for politics, detracting away from the core of the problem. Each party sought points in the political conflict, The state and its media outlets sought to further their own interests and the opposition was looking for gains in its battle against the regime.
The arbitrary dealing with the case hid the fact that there is corruption in Egypt. The remarks of the president since he came into power included clear indicators of the existence of high corruption rates across the state’s agencies. Some of the procedures taken by the state in the last few months provides more evidence that corruption exists. The Agriculture Ministry case can be clear evidence of that since, for the first time, a minister was sued on charges of corruption.
In December 2014, the government launched a national strategy to counter corruption. As soon as he entered office, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi talked about wide reforms and support to the state’s administrative control authority. This made the government a key player in the detection of a large number of corruption cases over 18 months.
In light of these facts, it is incomprehensible how some journalists and media figures have become more monarchists than the king himself. They let their desire to discredit Geneina blind them for the facts. They turned the helm of the battle from criticising him to defending corruption.
Aside from the difficulties he has faced in fighting corruption, Geneina has also met problems while dealing with media since the 30 June uprising. He tended to speak a lot to the media, a group that was waiting to attack any small mistake, warping his words into gross misrepresentation. Transparency and freedom of information are important but the story of Geneina raises many questions, especially since he took chair in the era of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Media outlets affiliated with the Brotherhood presented Geneina as a hero every time he spoke out. The group’s endorsement put him in range of state media which accused him of fighting a political battle that served the Brotherhood.
Apart from the noise of this battle, the regime in Egypt—with its administrative, legislative, judicial, and regulatory wings—are required to take more institutional actions against corruption. The legislative environment is inappropriate to stop corruption. There are dozens of laws that must be amended radically or added for the first time. The independence of regulatory bodies is still incomplete and constitutional provisions must be imposed. The way the government operates still needs to be changed radically to provide a suitable working environment for those involved in ensuring anti-corruption measures and to protect citizens from extortion and bribery.
On the other hand, the CAO and its head must reconsider their media representation to achieve transparency and continue revealing corruption without getting involved in political conflicts. The fight against corruption is a fight for existence and cannot be part of the polarisation process.
Walaa Gad Elkarim is Development and Human Rights Researcher and Director of Partners for Transparency.