Corruption is viewed by some as endemic in Syria. Others go as far as regarding it as one of the main causes for the current crisis. Many would agree, nonetheless, that corruption is a key subject that needs to be continuously tackled, given its impacts on the overall health of the economy and society. The corruption phenomenon presents a key issue, which is providing a definition for it, especially that such an issue depends on people’s experiences and the nature of their understanding of “corruption”. Spontaneous solutions are based on the lack of clear challenges and an understanding of the underlying issues of this phenomenon, which leads to inability to finding systematic solutions for corruption and our inability to measure our success in combating it. Any solution would need to deal with the underlying issues for corruption and understanding that each solution would have its economic and social costs. What is also needed is a management of expectations that are linked to measuring methods of combating corruption, in order to assess the level of success in this domain, which is dependent on a free and responsible journalism and on the people who are involved in the objectives of this process, in addition to the governmental parties that deal with this issue, especially the judicial authority.

The word “trust” often appears explicitly and implicitly when corruption is discussed. Examples on the lack of trust include the government’s inability to solve citizens’ problems, to achieve its obligations, abuse of power, personal gain that is related to power or position, bribes, awarding certain individuals/companies most public bids, corruption within the judiciary system and the possibility of buying judges, and the list goes on…

When it comes to the specificity of corruption in Syria, some view the issue as rooted in the constitution and the way public assets are managed. They believe that breaking up the government’s monopoly on these resources is needed to so that we could start dismantling the corruption mechanism.

There is another opinion in viewing corruption and lack of trust in the government, as those who adopt it believe that some social segments revert back with their identity to (the clan, tribe, sect, area or clan, or others), i.e. to the pre-state mentality, and they tend to destroy its institutions, which do not belong to them anymore.

A contrary view is that many emerging economies (and democracies) are plagued with corruption (eg. India, Russia and Mexico), yet its levels have not resulted in wide spread revolts. Even Canada, despite its efforts in the domain, has had its own share of corruption cases. “No country is entirely free of corruption” according to the web page of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Other opinions are of the view that the “occupy movements” which took place in many countries as a symbolic and limited expression to the lack of trust in government administration, private business sector and their governance mechanisms that they adopt.

Some believe that taking a strong and serious stance on corruption would have a positive impact on how citizens perceive the state and its trustworthiness. In the past, very few individuals were effectively held to account for corruption. Syrians need to redesign the structure of government through separation of authorities and enforcement of accountability and governance standards (within public and private sectors), instead of becoming no more than just a topic of discussion. The seriousness of the corruption issue requires a legal assessment of what is actually there, and then determining additional measures that are required.

To generate further discussion and to go deeper into the subject, one needs to define “corruption” from the perspective of “corruption offences” (similar to OECD’s practice) and to provide potential solutions. A document worth reading is Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index, which demonstrates the fallacy of linking success in fighting corruption with the introduction of democracy in previously authoritarian states. For example, the 2011 report ranks Syria (country 129 out of 182), as it succeeded in combating it more than countries that are ranked as democratic, like Lebanon (134), Iraq (175), and Afghanistan (180). However, the measurement of corruption is important to determine progress towards the goal.

Do we use Transparency’s 2011 results as our baseline for improvements or do we start our own baselines for Syria?  What matters most for Syrians when it comes to tackling corruption? Fighting corruption is a long term process which will definitely incur societal and economical costs and requires co-operation from al members of the society.  Managing unexpected possibilities in corruption reform processes is essential to ensure true reform, to avoid disappointments and to maintain popular support to the corruption fighting efforts.

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