A nation-wide survey conducted in mid-2009 by the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies found that 47% of small and medium businesses in Egypt are forced to offer government clerks cash bribes in order to obtain business licenses and must continually bribe them in order to avoid fines.

The survey, which questioned 800 small and medium business owners, found local government to be the most corrupt and the police to be the least. The survey cited the sharp decline in government salaries and lack of oversight as two of the main reasons for the high rate of corruption in the country. The report found the phenomenon so wide-spread that business-owners were not only forced to pay bribes for legal interests, but even to obtain permits they have no need for.

"The numbers are high," Dr Gamal 'Abd Al-Gawad, director of the center, which published the report, told The Media Line. "But they are still lower than the impression of common Egyptians regarding the spread of corruption in society." Al-Gawad said that, "The steady increase in Egyptian corruption over the past few decades coincides with the emergence of new businesses in Egypt. It is quite surprising that the barrier posed by bribes does not seam to impede the rise in commercial initiatives in the private sector."

'Abd Al-Gawad also pointed to the improvement in the amount of corruption seen in the services sector, in places such as the electric, telephone and water companies. 

Sobhy Essaila, who participated in writing the report, said that neither the payers nor the recipients of bribes consider the transaction to be a bribe, but rather consider it to be normal payment for services rendered. "This is considered to be an integral part of the Egyptian business culture," he said. 

Manuel Tirino of Transparency International, an international organization combating corruption, said the numbers are alarming, yet not surprising. "The discrepancy between legislation and implementation explains the high rate of corruption in Egypt," he told The Media Line. "The legal framework isn't bad; the government shows good will; and even the private sector has anti-corruption mechanisms in place -- but anti-corruption laws are still not sufficiently implemented. In Egypt, there's a significant gap between de jure and de facto," he added.

Tirino explained that the difficulty in implementing anti-corruption laws stems from a cumbersome government bureaucracy and underlying power struggles between government bureaucrats. A recently-published report by Transparency International found the overbearing nature of the Egyptian state to be the main cause of silencing civilian voices and thereby depriving citizens of means to hold government officials accountable.    

The Administrative Control Authority, Egypt's official anti-corruption watchdog, lacks the authority to investigate corruption charges against certain categories of state employees, the report found.

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