Head of the Central Auditing Organisation (CAO) Hisham Geneina came under fire over press statements he made last week on the value of money lost due to state corruption, in which he reportedly estimated that it exceeded EGP 600bn.
The Egyptian presidency denied “press reports” regarding corruption inside state institutions in a Saturday press release and ordered investigations into the claims.
“After following several media reports, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi formed a ‘fact-finding’ committee headed by the head of the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) to examine what was communicated to the press and present its own report to the public opinion, in total transparency,” the official statement of the presidential office stated.
The newly formed committee excludes Geneina, but includes his deputy, Hisham Badawy, along with representatives of the Ministries of Interior, Planning, Finance, and Justice.
“Based on monitoring reports supervised by the CAO, the cost of corruption inside the country’s institutions has exceeded EGP 600bn in 2015,” Geneina was quoted by local newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea as saying on 23 December.
Geneina further added in the interview that over the course of the year, CAO members and government officials have been exchanging reports, in which the traced violations were indentified, along with recommendations.
“The man has been under attack for a quite a while, especially by corrupt groups in the state who fear losing their benefits, but he is doing his job as well as he can,” said Abdel Khalek Farouk, an economic expert in the state budget who has also worked in several state monitoring bodies.
Slamming the presidency’s statement, Farouk told Daily News Egypt Sunday he believes the presidency is “short-sighted”.
“Their reaction reflects a large degree of ignorance of the impacts and threats of corruption and public funds’ waste on the economy.”
The presidency’s stance shows obvious distrust in the CAO’s work despite it being the highest technical body, Farouk said, noting that he trusts the ACA even less.
“It would be a mistake for Al-Sisi to rely on them. They have inherited the corruption. We have files against ACA members involved in illegal land seizure with the facilitation of former housing minister Ibrahim Soliman,” he said.
Farouk went on about the history of corruption in Egypt in the era of former president Hosni Mubarak. “By referring one or two corruption cases to trial, Mubarak was celebrated in national media as the honest and transparent man, much like what is currently happening with Al-Sisi,” he said.
Walaa Gad, who manages an anti-corruption NGO called Partners for Transparency (PFT), believes the presidency’s reaction highlights lack of communication between the two parties. “Obviously, there is an issue with the head of the CAO,” he said.
According to him, Geneina holds a position that requires more than just talking to the media. “The question remains as to whether the president of the CAO actually addressed the presidency with those reports or if he took any further legal action within his powers, such as filing reports to the prosecutor-general or sending the reports to the presidency,” Gad told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
Expressing his inability to understand Geneina’s actions and regarding the credibility of the numbers provided on corruption, Gad said, “I have read in the press that he said EGP 600bn during 2015, which is exaggerated and hardly possible since the total budget of the state is EGP 818bn”.
“However, I also read what seemed like a ‘corrected statement’ from the CAO saying that the number Geneina stated covers a period of four years. In that case, I would say the figures are close indeed,” Gad said.
In addition issuing monthly reports exposing corruption in different ministries and state institutions, PFT has also been closely watching Al-Sisi’s statements on the matter. It established that “despite a strong anti-corruption narrative, there is little action to implement effective legislations to fight corruption,” which was maintained by Gad.
In his earlier press statements, Geneina assured that the CAO began investigations into the presidential office after a halt since the ousting of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi and a delay he attributed to “security bodies’ approval,” according to Al-Youm Al-Sabea.
Gad also announced a press conference to follow “within the upcoming days”. Farouk commented by stating that perhaps Geneina’s only mistake was to not support his claims by a briefing of the report.
That does not mean however that he should have not spoken to the media. “On the contrary, revealing the truth to the public opinion was a demand of the 25 January Revolution in 2011 and a reinforcement of the concept of transparency. Before that, we never saw the content of corruption reports,” Farouk said.
Geneina has previously been condemned by several groups, such as judges, over press statement he made in 2012, in which he made revelations about corruption in the justice system and the Judges Club, which was headed then by current Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zind.
Al-Zind was sworn in as the new minister in May. In July, a controversial presidential decree was issued allowing the president of the country to dismiss heads of regulatory bodies.
Geneina himself had responded to the decree issued in an interview with Mada Masr on 21 July, in which he admitted existing rivalry with Al-Zind, suspecting the minister was behind the recent decree.“There are files that are linked to him personally and he knew about them. He knew I had the files,” he claimed in the interview.
According to the constitution passed in 2014, those regulatory bodies such as the CAO, should be technically, administratively, and financially independent. Article 219 stipulated that the CAO is responsible for monitoring the funds of the state as well as being responsible for monitoring the implementation of the state budget and independent budgets and for auditing its final accounts.
“Now the presidency is bringing a committee of non-experts, who will obtain experts’ assistance to monitor the monitoring body, against the law and the constitution,” Farouq said.
In its introduction, the constitution stated that “We are drafting a Constitution that prevents any corruption or tyranny and by which we heal the wounds of the past […] The State shall fight corruption and the competent control agencies and organisations shall be identified by Law. Competent control agencies and organisations shall coordinate their activities in combating corruption, enhancing the values of integrity and transparency in order to ensure the sound performance of public functions and preserve public funds”.
“People are not to be fooled and they will soon be angry with Al-Sisi’s talks but lack of action. The president’s strategy does not differ from Mubarak’s; even in the selection of his appointments, he seems to be taking from the same basket of corrupt officials,” Farouk said.
Hisham Geneina was appointed by ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2012. The head of the organisation serves a term of four years, subject to renewal.
“The Muslim Brotherhood refused to hire me as the head of CAO and believed Geneina was closer to them. But honestly, the man did not and does not support the group. His goals were and continue to be to expose aspects of corruption in the country that we have been trying to counter for years,” Farouq said.