The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you
Key concepts: Transparency, Accountability … and Corruption
Transparency means operating in such a way that everybody can see what you are doing. It is important that governments behave transparently, so that civilians can know whether their leaders are effectively serving the public and are keeping their promises. This is particularly important in the case of how public money is spent, but it also extends to transparency over whether a government is fulfilling its human rights commitments.
Accountability is related to transparency, because when a government behaves transparently it can be held accountable by the public and civil society. Officials are ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of their tasks and responsibilities. When officials fail in their duties or behave illegally, there should be consequences.
Corruption is the misuse of public power by appointed civil servants for private gain. Without transparency and accountability – and without an active role for civil society – corruption can damage the performance of government, undermine its credibility, and lead to the wastage and misappropriation of large amounts of the public’s money.
Why transparency and accountability matter for civil society
Greater transparency can transform the relationship between citizen and government and ensure that there is trust on all sides.
Independent civil society organizations are vital for holding government officials to account; monitoring what the authorities are doing; and ensuring that officials behave transparently. An effective media is also important for publishing information about the government’s actions and allowing for discussion and criticism of performance.
Without transparency, it is difficult or impossible for civil society groups which hold the authorities to account to do their job. These organizations need to have a strong relationship with government departments, while protecting their independence and objectivity.
Citizens for Bahrain’s weekly reports on the activity of Parliament and Government aspires to play a part in raising awareness locally and globally about the performance of officials and elected representatives. This can help encourage a mature debate about how politicians serve the public. If the public themselves do not understand how government departments operate and have unrealistic expectations of the political process, then the whole system of accountability and transparency breaks down.
Therefore, civil society groups and the media have a vital role in educating and informing the public and stimulating serious discussion about how public officials are serving society. This requires a climate of freedom of expression, where constructive criticism is encouraged and where officials and elected representatives are also listening to what the public is saying.
Transparency Bahrain – Free and fair elections
In 1993 a few individuals around the world decided to take a stance against corruption and established Transparency International. The organization is now present in more than 100 countries, aiming to “stir the world’s collective conscience and bring about change”.
Transparency Bahrain is the local branch of this global organization. It regularly organizes activities to raise awareness of issues related to accountability and transparency. For example, the organization held an event to discuss the so-called “Panama Papers” scandal, showing how rich individuals around the world were escaping taxation and accountability by hiding their wealth in offshore accounts.
In Bahrain at elections time, civil society organizations like Transparency Bahrain play an important role in monitoring procedures at elections centres, to ensure that the process is free and fair.
It is vital for civil society to play a role in ensuring the successful holding of credible parliamentary elections, as well as urging political forces and citizens to engage in the elections. Civil society should also work to promote youth participation in the electoral process at all stages.
Financial Audit Bureau
Bahrain’s Financial Audit Bureau each year issues an extensive report investigating financial violations, wastage of public funds and instances of corruption across all government departments. The report is submitted to government departments and Parliament for further action and is covered extensively by the media.
As a result of these reports, numerous significant cases of suspected corruption have been referred to the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Corruption Directorate by the Cabinet. Other cases have been referred to the Public Prosecutor. Parliament also has powers to investigate the FAB report, submit cases for action by the Public Prosecutor and question ministers about financial mismanagement.
Nevertheless, there has been criticism from the media and the public that similar violations are reported year after year by the FAB without being adequately dealt with. Arguably, independent civil society organizations should be playing a greater role in following these reports and lobbying for more transparent action, so as to give the public the confidence that their money is well spent.
Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission
As well financial transparency, it is important that governments also behave transparently and accountably regarding their human rights record.
For this objective, the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission was set up in mid-2013 under the auspices of the independent Ombudsman Office to “assess the conditions and treatment of detainees and to deter and help prevent torture, inhumane or degrading treatment in places of custody”. The organization has legal powers to monitor detention centres and work to improve prison conditions and prevent abuses.
The Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission recently issued a report on prison conditions in the Jau Rehabilitation and Reformation Centre, which was analyzed by Citizens for Bahrain. The full report can be found in full here.
The report discussed all aspects of prisoners’ lives, including recreational facilities, access to legal counsel, family visits and detainees’ welfare.
ABC of civil society