Our recently published Global Integrity Report: United Arab Emirates revealed things good, bad, and a little weird in the Gulf state. Here’s what we learned.
For the second time in the history of the Global Integrity Report, a country scorecard has returned a negative implementation gap. This is a measure of the gap between the laws on the books compared to their actual implementation; a large gap means a country has lots of legal safeguards, but isn’t enforcing them well. The United Arab Emirates has earned an implementation gap of -5, suggesting that practical implementation is actually better than the legal mandate.
What does this mean? In short, where anti-corruption institutions and laws do exist, they are functioning. But despite this good news, unique challenges remain — challenges that require thinking beyond the “model” approach.
An implementation gap is calculated for every country scorecard included in the Global Integrity Report. It is a measurement comparing the existence of laws, mechanisms, and institutions designed to prevent corruption to whether those same laws and mechanisms are enforced and accessible to the public in practice. (In more technical terms, we compare the scores for a country’s “in law” indicators to the “in practice” indicators to come up with a numerical measurement of the “gap” between the two types of indicators.) Although the numerical values vary from country to country, we typically expect a score of zero or above: signifying that laws are in place, but implementation tends to be the greater issue.
The negative implementation gap in the UAE tells a fairly unique story. Not only does it show that where laws are in place they are well-enforced, but also that some interesting, practical solutions to governance and transparency challenges exist in the UAE; solutions that might not match up against international “best practice.” For instance, although there is no legal right to information in the UAE, in 2009, the government created a centralized center where citizens and journalists can request documents from all government branches, agencies, and departments. Despite the fact that the center is not legally obliged to disclose information, in its short life-span this institution has shown a propensity to release information to both journalists and citizens.
This track-record of actively implementing laws that do exist suggests that one possible way forward for anti-corruption reform in the UAE should be through an approach focused on strengthening the country’s anti-corruption legal framework. As it stands, the legal framework is bare in some places. Besides the lack of a freedom of information law, there is little regulation over political financing, and the scorecard shows mixed results on conflicts of interest for government officials. Should the legal framework be increased, this would also require the establishment of additional anti-corruption agencies: as of now, the Supreme Audit Institution is really the only public anti-corruption organization, handling issues from auditing to whistle-blower protections.
The UAE data reminds us there is no one prescriptive model for anti-corruption. For instance, when no political parties exist (as in the case of the UAE and other Gulf countries), is there a need to focus on regulating and encouraging transparency around party funding and expenditures? Or are more fundamental issues of political competition more important? These situations demand a deviation from more textbook anti-corruption solutions, highlighting both the futility of blanket models and the importance of in-country creativity.
To read more about the UAE’s anti-corruption laws and their enforcement, see the Global Integrity Report: 2009.
— Norah Mallaney