Middle East and North Africa Regional Meeting: Corruption and opaque practices undermining aid delivery

28 June 2024

Corruption and waste in humanitarian aid and reconstruction operations are key concerns for civil society in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and were at the center of discussions at a recent UNCAC Coalition regional meeting on May 22nd.

Non-transparent practices, such as withholding data and restricting access to information about aid delivery and disaster management efforts to affected communities and the general public, undermine the efficiency of delivered aid as well as efforts for civil society to monitor if and how funds reach the affected communities. 

At this meeting, different contexts and approaches to advancing transparency in humanitarian aid were presented by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability AMAN – Transparency Palestine, Transparency Maroc and Studies and Economic Media Center from Yemen. CSO representatives from Iraq and Sudan also shared their experiences. 

Members of the UNCAC Coalition MENA regional community shared effective practices and lessons learned in monitoring humanitarian aid and promoting transparency during humanitarian disasters and reconstruction efforts. These include:

  • Developing a Set of Guidelines: AMAN Coalition – Transparency Palestine developed Guidelines for Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Aid in 2012, with the latest update in 2021. The guidelines primarily target public sector institutions, especially the Ministry of Social Development, civil institutions, and charitable organisations involved in distributing humanitarian aid. The document provides best practices to workers and volunteers in the field to minimise opportunities for corruption during aid distribution
  • Conducting Investigative Journalism: In collaboration with the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, AMAN Coalition – Transparency Palestine organised a training module for journalists and media institutions on the role of media oversight in reconstruction efforts. The main goal is to help journalists expose the corrupt, maintaining the high importance of sharing written reports and press investigations with the public to hold the corrupt accountable, and involving the syndicate to have journalists actively monitor and follow up on the reconstruction process. 
  • Developing Online Trackers: Gaza Track, a joint initiative by AMAN Coalition – Transparency Palestine and Social Development Action, seeks improve access to information regarding the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to enhance the monitoring and support of relief efforts according to emergency work standards
  • Using Public Campaigns to call for Accountability: In Yemen, a social media campaign #WhereIsTheMoney? Called for transparency on donor funds and highlighted deficiencies in humanitarian aid implementation. In Palestine, numerous civil society organisations monitored aid distribution and reconstruction in 2021 under the “Clean Hands” campaign Building Networks and Partnering in Affected Areas: Transparency Maroc, building on its monitoring of aid following a 2023 earthquake, highlighted the importance of collaborating with partners in affected areas to accurately assess corruption risks and ensure fair practices in aid delivery. Similarly, in 2014, AMAN Coalition had established a Civil Reconstruction Oversight Team comprising 97 partner institutions in Palestine
  • Empowering Local Civil Society Organisations in (Remote) Affected Areas: In Morocco, where earthquake-affected areas are often remote and mountainous, Transparency Maroc is working with 30 local organisations. This effort is crucial for building the capacities of local civil society and enhancing trust between these organisations and local residents

Aid Transparency – Reflecting on International Good Practices 

According to Wael Balousha, Director of AMAN Coalition -Transparency Palestine Office in the Gaza Strip, aid transparency involves clear procedures for those responsible for distributing aid, transparent decision-making processes regarding the destination of aid, public disclosure of aid management policies, and ensuring access to information about aid eligibility criteria. This means that all citizens, without discrimination, should receive timely and appropriate information to access aid. The Project Coordinator for Governance Observatory for Reconstructing Earthquake-Affected Areas at Transparency Maroc, Youssef Siraj, outlined two key aspects of aid transparency:

  1. Ensuring Transparency in Data: Following the earthquake in Morocco, there was a rush to provide data on the number of victims and affected areas. However, this data proved to be inaccurate. Transparency Maroc is focusing on ensuring that data meets a certain level of credibility, recognising that reliable data is a crucial component of aid transparency. Moreover, there is a need for precise data on those affected by the earthquake and on aid beneficiaries. This helps prevent redundancy, where some individuals receive aid multiple times while others receive none.
  2. Enhancing Transparency of Reporting Sources: This involves improving the transparency of sources that report on casualties and initially provide data. Accurate and transparent reporting is essential for effective aid distribution.

Constraints in Achieving Aid Transparency

Wael Balousha – Transparency Palestine highlighted the multiplicity of parties involved in reconstruction processes as a major challenge. This includes the evaluation, financing, and rebuilding efforts, which have been impeded by complex conditions imposed by the occupying power and the siege on Gaza. Various sectors, such as agriculture and industry, have faced reconstruction difficulties. The slow pace or complete halt of reconstruction has often led to a shift from rebuilding efforts to providing relief, making individuals who formerly earned their livelihoods through these sectors dependent on humanitarian aid. 

In Morocco, Youssef Siraj pointed out that one of the biggest constraints is the lack of field knowledge. This lack of expertise can result in underestimating or overestimating the severity of dangers due to the absence of a robust disaster management approach.

In Yemen, Mustafa Nasr – the Chairman of the Studies and Economic Media Center explained how humanitarian aid has become a tool for conflict and favouritism. An Associated Press investigation highlighted the emergence of a war economy and wrongdoings by all conflict parties. Nasr argues that there is no direct support provided to civil society organisations (CSOs) to advance transparency in humanitarian aid. This situation forces CSOs to focus on relief efforts, preventing them from overseeing the work of international organisations, which are allegedly contributing to corruption among local implementers, including local CSOs operating with inadequate financial oversight and without accountability. Furthermore, the #WhereIsTheMoney? campaign faces significant challenges due to a lack of necessary infrastructure, restricting its impact.

Preventive Measures and Role of CSOs

In the Moroccan context, Youssef Siraj – Transparency Maroc, argues that among the several preventive measures identified, a fundamental aspect of CSOs’ role is the importance of cooperating with field partners who share humanitarian values to ensure fair conduct towards victims. Establishing a systematic approach by building a comprehensive database allows local CSOs to enhance aid delivery. This systematic approach enables effective reporting on both deficiencies and successes. The most crucial preventive measure is ensuring genuine inclusion in the reconstruction process. While the Moroccan State has established an independent agency for reconstruction, this entity is primarily intended to incorporate the public sector. However, it currently exists only as a legal document and is not an operational body. Consequently, Transparency Maroc advocates for greater involvement and a more significant role for civil society in the reconstruction process. 

Simultaneously, it is important to build the capacities of local CSOs to foster trust between these organisations and citizens. This trust is crucial for collecting accurate data, which in turn improves aid delivery and reconstruction efforts.

According to Wael Balousha, Transparency Palestine, several vital mechanisms in place contribute to curbing corruption in humanitarian aid and reconstruction operations. These include an established channel to receive complaints from citizens, conducting field visits to affected areas, and meeting with key stakeholders to sign Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs). Additionally, rolling out advocacy campaigns, hosting hearings and accountability sessions, and making information available through online trackers such as the Gaza Track platform, help monitor and follow up on the flow of humanitarian aid.

As a result of the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza, CSOs have reported refusing to work with certain donors because of their political positions. CSOs also find it important to advocate for including donors in accountability hearings and in processes related to corruption in humanitarian aid operations. Moving forward, CSOs would establish an initiative dedicated to the prevention of corruption in the context of humanitarian aid and reconstruction and that serves as a platform to enhance inter- and cross-regional exchange.