Despite the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, Burundi is facing a deepening corruption crisis that threatens to jeopardise a peace that is based on development and economic growth bolstered by the state and driven by foreign investment. The “neopatrimonialist” practices of the party in office since 2005 has relegated Burundi to the lowest governance rankings, reduced its appeal to foreign investors, damaged relations with donors; and contributed to social discontent. More worrying still, neopatrimonialism is undermining the credibility of post-conflict institutions, relations between former Tutsi and new Hutu elites and cohesion within the ruling party, whose leaders are regularly involved in corruption scandals. In order to improve public governance, the Burundian authorities should “walk the talk” and take bold steps to curtail corruption. Civil society should actively pursue its watchdog role and organise mass mobilisation against corruption and donors should prioritise good governance.
Since Burundi became a republic in 1966, state capture, mostly by the Tutsi elite, was at the centre of politics, and the unfair wealth distribution fuelled conflict. While the 1993-2003 civil war has not threatened the Tutsi political and economic domination, it has increased corruption and favoured the rise of an ethnically diverse oligarchy.
When the CNDD-FDD (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie) rebellion came to power in 2005, it intended not only to transfer political power from the Tutsi to the Hutu but also to improve governance. The new authorities pledged to fight corruption and created state structures to this effect. However, the first corruption scandals involving the CNDD-FDD dignitaries and state officials watered down the hope of a more equitable wealth distribution.
In addition to the politicisation of the civil service, the ruling party captured the public sector and its resources. It is coveting the private sector by trying to extend its control over the banking sector. It is also interfering in privatisation processes, thwarting efforts to improve the business climate. In such a small economy, where the state maintains a prominent role, the monopolisation of public and private resources risks derailing the peacebuilding process.
The president took the lead in the fight against corruption to improve Burundi’s declining image and address the impact of this pervasive corruption on foreign aid – which amounts to half of the state budget. He launched a “zero tolerance” campaign and designed a national strategy for good governance. However, as the core problem has not been correctly identified, this approach is doomed to fail. The solution is not to “get the talk right”, to “get the institutions right” and to “get the legal framework right”; it is to change the power relations that undermine good governance.
The national strategy for good governance includes all the necessary technical ingredients to fight corruption: improved legal framework, citizens’ access to information, independent monitoring and regulatory organisations, depoliticised civil service managers, transparent tendering processes and public servants recruitments, and reform of the natural resources sector.
What is missing is a clear political agenda. Civil society organisations should create a mass movement against corruption through the establishment of an anti-corruption forum gathering the private sector, rural organisations and universities. They should also conduct independent citizens’ surveys and assessments and scrutinise the government’s anti-corruption performance. Donors should prioritise the fight against corruption and reconsider their engagement if governance does not improve. Now that the anti-corruption agenda has become a public policy through the national strategy for good governance, it is up to civil society and donors to create the conditions for its implementation.
To create independent institutional checks and balances
To the Government and the Parliament:
1. Establish the High Court of Justice as required by articles 233, 234, 235 and 236 of the constitution and strengthen the statutory safeguards for the independence of the judiciary, such as the revision of the composition and powers of the Superior Council of the Judiciary and the principle of tenure of judges.
2. Review the anti-corruption law to extend the powers of the anti-corruption agencies, strengthen the control of illicit enrichment and protect informants.
To the Government:
3. Remove the supervision authority of the executive branch over the General State Inspectorate and the regulatory agencies so that they become independent administrative authorities.
To improve governance and transparency in the public sector
To the Government:
4. Activate the recruitment committee of the civil service ministry, integrate civil society in its composition and publicise widely the recruitment and appeal procedures.
5. Ensure the declarations of assets and conflicts of interest are mandatory and public for all politicians and senior members of the Burundi Revenue Agency, procurement units, and privatisation and anti-corruption institutions.
6. Include civil society representatives in the procurement units within the ministries; limit by decree the categories of public contracts with a secret nature incompatible with any publicity or competition; and change the composition of the committee in charge of the qualification of these contracts by entrusting the chairmanship to a senior judge.
7. Pass a law on access to administrative documents and publish on the Internet financial details of the state and public companies, such as the budget adopted and implemented by ministries and agencies, budget amendments, other public accounts, procurement contracts, etc.
8. Reform the legal and institutional framework of the oil and mining sector, drawing on international good practice and civil society involvement, and join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
To create the conditions for the implementation of reforms
To Civil Society:
9. Establish the anti-corruption forum set out in the national strategy for good governance involving companies, universities and rural and urban associations, and establish a citizen’s oversight commission to monitor public procurement practices, influence peddling, corruption in the land administration and illicit enrichment of public servants and politicians.
10. Conduct social audits and an assessment of the “national integrity system”, the government’s anti-corruption performance, the business climate and privatisation processes.
To the European Union:
11. Ensure the fight against corruption features prominently in the dialogue with Burundi, prioritise governance in the eleventh European Development Fund and conduct an assessment of the aid by the European Court of Auditors.
To the other donors (African Development Bank, World Bank, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, France, the U.S., Japan, etc.):
12. Support civil society efforts against corruption, including training to improve knowledge of public finance, procurement and legal control.
13. Include social audits in development projects and suspend projects where corruption has been proved.
14. Link budget support to the implementation of independent institutional checks and balances and to progress in terms of governance and transparency of the administration.
15. Conduct a performance audit on donor-backed institutional checks and balances and support them only after securing guarantees of their independence and conducting a performance audit.
16. Ask the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to publicly release its assessment of the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption.
Bujumbura/Nairobi/Brussels, 21 March 2012