Zero tolerance for corruption


Okaz newspaper

WE should express our extreme happiness and pride over the historic decision issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to set up a high committee to fight corruption. We should also express our appreciation for the committee›s chairman, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who immediately went into action without any ambiguity or favoritism against all people accused of corruption.

I do not need to reaffirm what every citizen has said that this step represented the beginning of a new phase in the history of Saudi Arabia and that it will put an end to the systemic corruption, which has not spared anything or anyone.

According to the committee›s chairman, the embezzlement from the state budget each year was about 10 percent, which has been going on for many years.

In a recent interview with American journalist Thomas Friedman, the Crown Prince said 95 percent of people accused of corruption had agreed to a settlement under which they would return the money they had embezzled to the state.

He said 4 percent of the accused refused to admit their mistakes and would go to the courts while 1 percent were released in the absence of sufficient evidence against them.

It is good to know that about $100 billion will be returned to the public treasury as part of the settlement. However, I would like to put forward some observations to the Crown Prince, because as citizens we should give him our opinions to the Crown Prince knowing very well that he will welcome them. The Crown Prince not only welcomes people›s views but he is in fact asking for them.

First of all, we feel that the 95 percent who agreed to the settlement to avoid a court trial are the real winners. They have achieved what they had never dreamed of.

Say for instance, if one of them had embezzled about $100 million 10 years ago, he might have made more than $500 million from investing the money that he had embezzled over this period. When he returns $100 million to the government, he would have safely kept for himself $400 million. He will then be able to go out of detention to enjoy the wealth he had made through corruption and which has become legal now through the settlement with the government. We have fears that this is what this settlement would mean for the corrupt men who have accepted the government›s offer.

If our understanding is correct, this settlement will encourage the corrupt and give them a sense of relief and comfort. They will repay a small portion of the wealth they had gained through corruption. This will simply mean that a corrupt person can steal, invest and when he is caught, he will readily agree to a settlement and then live his life freely to enjoy the money he had accumulated and which has now become legal.

The embezzlement of public money is a grand crime that is punishable by law all over the world. This crime becomes even bigger when it is committed by a senior official who was made in charge of the homeland and its assets.

Therefore he should be punished according to the law. He should not be acquitted of his criminal responsibility for embezzling pubic funds. It is not enough to return the stolen money. This should be done to achieve justice for all and to deter anyone who might think of illegally grabbing public funds.

The corrupt do not deserve lenience. They do not appreciate our compassion because the noble values are not in their lexicon, which enabled them to heartlessly embezzle government funds.

This is just a viewpoint, Mr. Crown Prince. You may have a different opinion but I wanted to present it to you out of my concern for the country and its people. This noble country should be freed from creeping corruption.