Endemic corruption impedes Burundi’s economic Development, anti-corruption activists claim

By Avit Ndayiziga

Plagued by a score of 20 out of 100 on the 2023 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Burundi ranks among the world’s top 20 corruption hotspots. This pervasive corruption, according to the anti-corruption watchdog organization (OLUCOME) and international organizations, has crippled economic growth and entrenched poverty, solidifying Burundi’s position as the poorest nation in the world.

Transparency International, a global leading anti-corruption coalition, ranks Burundi at 162nd position out of 180 countries assessed in its 2023 Corruption Perception Index (CPI).  This score positions Burundi among the top 20 most corrupt countries globally, reflecting the widespread corruption within the country, significantly impacting its development trajectory. 

As per the same report, within the East African Community (EAC), Burundi falls behind all other neighboring member states such as Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, with Rwanda leading the region with a commendable score of 53. This absurd reality highlights once again the gravity of Burundi’s corruption problem. 

Corruption undermines Burundi’s economy

Gabriel Rufyiri, head of the anti-corruption organization, the Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption and Economic Embezzlement (OLUCOME), paints a bleak picture of Burundi’s economic prospects, attributing the nation’s struggles to rampant corruption.

  

Gabriel Rufyiri, head of the anti-corruption organization, the Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption and Economic Embezzlement (OLUCOME)

“Pervasive corruption, particularly when perpetrated by high-ranking officials (big fishes) diverts vital resources dedicated to crucial infrastructure projects like hospitals, roads, and markets, severely strangling development at its core. Even petty bribery, which is referred to as ‘’anarchic or gray corruption’’  wears away public trust and drains the motivation for legitimate economic activity. Noted Rufyiri.

“Despite efforts to combat corruption, they have not been very effective. thus, Burundi continues to grapple with high levels of corruption, solidifying its status as the poorest country on the globe,” The activist concluded. 

Besides, OLUCOME’s annual reports indicate that in 2022, the Observatory dealt with 75 corruption cases of public funds embezzlement and poor governance, resulting in a financial loss exceeding 59.83 billion Burundian Francs while the country lost  448.1 billion Burundian Francs in 2021 with over 68 corruption cases.

The alleged perpetrators include high-ranking officials serving the government of Burundi, especially those in charge of regulating and managing public markets, state-owned companies and local authorities.

Backing the activist, the head of state, HE Evariste Ndayishimiye addressing judges two years ago, complained that corruption is the origin of all curses that have bewitched the country’s development, preventing foreign investors from investing in Burundi.

“Wherever I travel across the country, I encounter over a thousand grievances from citizens whom you have unjustly and unfairly treated, and their concerns are valid. Foreign investors can any longer invest in Burundi because you have organized schemes to embezzle their funds, leaving them with no recourse to justice through the courts.” cried out the president.

Even though the president complained and cried in front of judges, Leonce Ngendakumana, vice president of FRODEBU, diverged and rejected the president’s complaints. He urged him to implement strict measures to combat corruption efficiently as he is the supreme judge to overturn corruption-based decisions.

“It is the very first time in the history of Burundi that the president acknowledges leading a government of thieves. Members of the ruling party in the government justify their embezzlement, corruption, and other associated crimes as compensation for their efforts deployed during the decade-long war they engaged in. However, how long will they continue to deplete the country’s resources? The president holds the highest authority. He is the supreme judge. He should not complain. Instead, he must implement stringent measures to combat corruption effectively,” Ngendakumana concluded.

Beyond the president’s statement on the corruption’s detrimental effects on investment in Burundi, a comparative study of the Université du Lac Tanganyika on the impact of corruption on private investment in Burundi and other East African Community countries acknowledges that the rentier and predatory behavior that corruption puts on investors chokes the spirit of initiatives and enterprises.

The same study highlights that corruption acts as an additional investment tax that discourages local and foreign investors, who prefer speculative and short-term activities instead of large-scale investments. Thus, Burundi’s private sector remains embryonic with mainly small and medium-sized businesses operating in the informal sector.

Why persistent corruption in Burundi?

According to Faustin Ndikumana, the leader of PARCEM, an organization dedicated to promoting good governance, combating corruption, safeguarding human rights, and fostering economic growth in Burundi, corruption is rampant in Burundi due to the absence of national strategies and inadequate laws that hinder anti-corruption efforts. “It has been nearly nine years since the country last had a comprehensive anti-corruption plan. How can we leverage the 2015 national plan to combat corruption in 2024? This indicates a lack of political determination to eradicate it.”He stated.

Faustin Ndikumana, the leader of PARCEM, an organization dedicated to promoting good governance, combating corruption, safeguarding human rights, and fostering economic growth in Burundi

The activist adds that inadequate laws and weak institutions hinder anti-corruption efforts.”State and non-state institutions dedicated to fighting corruption face challenges due to insufficient financial resources. For example, the anti-corruption police lack the necessary resources such as vehicles and adequate budgets to effectively serve the interests of the Burundian people.

Additionally, the National Court of Audit which is not operational has allowed government officials to engage in the public funds embezzlement fueling the corruption in all domains of life.”Ndikumana pointed out the case of the former Prime Minister of Burundi, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, who is currently imprisoned in the central prison of Gitega on charges of embezzlement of public funds and money laundering. The court revealed that over 10 years, Bunyoni has acquired 150 houses and 150 cars, which is inexplicable in the world’s poorest country.

In line with the fight against corruption Transparency International backs Faustin, stating that fighting corruption is challenging as it is deeply entrenched in systems and institutions, making it difficult to eradicate. Additionally, corruption often involves powerful individuals who may resist anti-corruption measures. Lack of transparency, weak governance structures, and ineffective enforcement mechanisms further complicate efforts to combat corruption.

Defeating corruption in Burundi

According to Gabriel Rufyiri, Burundians must overcome fear and denounce corruption and economic embezzlement acts as it is in line with Article 69 of the Burundian constitution. The Constitution stipulates that “public property is sacred and inviolable, and everyone must respect and protect it diligently. Every Burundian has the right to defend the patriotism of the nation. Any actions such as sabotage, vandalism, corruption, embezzlement, squandering, or any other acts that harm the public good are subject to punishment as stipulated by law.”He quoted.

Beyond this, OLUCOME urges authorities to enforce the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, which Burundi ratified on January 18, 2005. 

Additionally, OLUCOME urges authorities to adhere to the implementation of  Article 29 of Burundi’s anti-corruption law, which stipulates that “top officials must declare their assets within fifteen days of taking office to the Judicial Chamber of the Supreme Court, including their assets, those of their spouses, and minor children, regardless of ownership, use, or habitual possession.” OLUCOME regrets, however, that the declaration has never been implemented.

As per OLUCOME, the re-establishment of the National Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Strategy through a participatory approach would serve as a guiding document for governance and anti-corruption initiatives in Burundi.

As corruption keeps ravaging the revenues, the president of Burundi pointed out that the  Burundian Revenue Office(OBR)’s agents are complicit in corruption acts that result in a huge gap between importation costs and taxes from it.

To this end, the government of Burundi has put in place a 2018-2023 Anti-corruption strategy with the  Burundian Revenue Office(OBR). The strategy aims to strengthen control over compliance with procedures, promotion of transparency and accountability, prevention, Education, and sanctions, and develop a dynamic partnership with the external environment.

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