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Mideast needs checks, to improve governance - report
CAIRO (Reuters) - Ineffective checks on executive political power in Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian areas and Egypt are hindering the fight against corruption and holding back economic growth, Transparency International said on Sunday.
These places share problems of poor public accountability and uneven enforcement of anti-corruption laws, the Berlin-based watchdog said, while adding that a lack of accountability was a widespread problem in the Middle East.
Middle East markets have been watched closely by foreign investors as several of them have weathered the global downturn better than the United States, Europe and other big markets.
But investors in the region often grumble about a lack of transparency and other governance issues.
"Conflict and political turmoil have taken their toll on the fight against corruption," Transparency regional director for Middle East and North Africa Chantal Uwimana said at the release of a report covering the four Middle East countries or entities.
The report said: "Studies of Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco concluded that nepotism, bribery and patronage are so common that they are widely accepted as facts of life."
In Transparency International's corruption perception index rankings for 180 countries, Egypt is 111th, Lebanon is 130th and Morocco 89th, lower than many regional peers on a list where No. 1 is perceived as the least corrupt.
While reasons for poor transparency ranged from fragile political systems to overbearing states that silenced dissent, all needed to empower civil society and improve institutions of governance, the report said.
"Corruption can and needs to be addressed effectively through grass-roots initiatives," Uwimana said. "Informed, home-grown strategies hold the best chance of success."
But realities on the ground were far from what was needed, she added.
"Specific provisions regarding whistleblowing or whistleblower protection are almost fully lacking across the region," Uwimana said.
"While certain government agencies may make use of information from whistleblowers, clear procedures regulating how to report corruption and mechanisms to protect whistleblowers from retaliation are absent," the report said.
Where local watchdogs exist, they are usually too weak and suffer from limited power and resources to combat corruption.
Public officials, private companies and citizens have little understanding of accountability and transparency, the report said, adding citizens were often wary of holding governments to account sometimes due to social pressures not to speak out.
(Editing by Edmund Blair and Myra MacDonald)
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