Qatar is aiming to eliminate its ‘wasta’ culture from business dealings as part of its crackdown on corruption and bribery, one of the country’s leading legal experts told Arabian Business in an interview.
The word loosely translates from Arabic into “who you know” in English and has come to represent one’s clout or nepotism in business dealings.
“Qatar is taking strong steps to move that wasta culture from its business dealings,” Robert Musgrove (pictured), CEO of the Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre (QICDRC), said in an interview in Doha.
“You look at the bribery act in the UK, and one man’s bribery is another man’s way of doing business. This region involves things like gifts. You go to the UK, if you give the ambassador a tie and if it costs more than a few [UK] pounds he has to be written in a book… Here there is a culture of gift-giving and generosity, based on strong tribal Bedouin tradition.
“It is not necessarily given with the intent to influence; it is given with the intent to demonstrate status, friendliness and openness,” he added.
While Musgrove admitted “culture is always very difficult and some of the laws that now come out it are quite complex to interpret in a regional sort of way,” he said issues of bribery had yet to come before the QICDRC and it was unlikely to be the relevant forum.
“We haven’t been asked to rule on those kinds of issues and they might be more appropriate for the Attorney General,” he admitted. As part of Qatar’s move up the global power chain, it has taken strides towards eliminating corruption and bribery. Qatar last year established the International Centre for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption.
“The ongoing transformations in the Arab region highlight the need for enhanced anti-corruption cooperation,” UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the UN Development Programme, Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, said during a visit to Doha in April 2012.
Last year, it was reported Qatar had also set up an anti-corruption watchdog to track state ministries and agencies and to probe claims of abuses of power or public funds.
The country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, said the Administrative Control and Transparency Authority (ACTA) would also scrutinise the activities of government-linked agencies. The authority’s tasks will include probing the misuse of public funds and investigating complaints against government officials. The agency may also have access to banking details, in cases that allege money laundering activities.
Such initiatives have already started paying dividends and Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, the chairman of the ACTA said he was keen to “rid its systems of practices that hinder transparency”.
In January, Transparency International released its 2011 perceived corruption index, which found Qatar to be perceived as the least corrupt country in the Middle East, and 22nd in the world, above the US and France. Gulf countries have stepped up efforts to fight government corruption in the wake of widespread political tensions across the Arab world.
The misuse of power and funding has been seen as a key trigger behind the protests that toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Al Attiyah said that a state employee should not own or manage a private business or even be on the board of a listed company.
He added that if cases of senior government officials indulging in nepotism or favouritism in making appointments in their respective departments or agencies are brought to the notice of the Authority with documentary proof, such cases would be investigated.
source: Arabian Business
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