Tu­nisia op­po­si­tion raises alarm over cor­rup­tion amnesty law


TUNIS: Op­po­si­tion groups have raised the alarm over Tu­nisia’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy af­ter Par­lia­ment passed an amnesty law for of­fi­cials ac­cused of cor­rup­tion un­der top­pled dic­ta­tor Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

The law passed Wed­nes­day evening af­ter a rowdy de­bate in Par­lia­ment, com­ing in the wake of a Cab­i­net reshuf­fle that saw Ben Ali-era of­fi­cials join the Cab­i­net as min­is­ters of fi­nance and ed­u­ca­tion.

The reshuf­fle was seen as strength­en­ing Pres­i­dent Beji Caid Essebsi’s grip on power months ahead of Tu­nisia’s first post-rev­o­lu­tion mu­nic­i­pal polls.

Tu­nisia has been seen as a model of demo­cratic tran­si­tion since Ben Ali was over­thrown in a 2011 rev­o­lu­tion that sparked the Arab Spring up­ris­ings.

But Mon­ica Marks, an ex­pert on Tu­nisian pol­i­tics, said the law’s pas­sage was “a huge sym­bolic vic­tory for im­punity.”

She added: “It sig­nals the green light, from the top of Tu­nisia’s state in­sti­tu­tions, to in­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in abuses of power.”

Pro­posed by Essebsi in mid-2015, the bill grants an amnesty to busi­ness­peo­ple and Ben Ali of­fi­cials on trial for cor­rup­tion, in ex­change for re­turn­ing ill-got­ten money plus pay­ing a fine.

In the face of grow­ing public anger, the text was re­vised to cover only of­fi­cials ac­cused of in­volve­ment in ad­min­is­tra­tive cor­rup­tion, not those who re­ceived bribes.

The pres­i­dency de­fended the law, say­ing it was needed to pro­tect the econ­omy and “free up the en­er­gies” of the gov­ern­ment.

The law ap­plies to around 2,000 se­nior of­fi­cials “who did not re­ceive any bribes,” Cab­i­net Di­rec­tor Se­lim Az­z­abi said, adding it would af­fect peo­ple who “re­ceived in­struc­tions and ap­plied them without prof­it­ing” un­der the dic­ta­tor­ship. He said the law could boost Tu­nisia’s slug­gish eco­nomic growth.

Op­po­si­tion and civil so­ci­ety groups have re­jected that ar­gu­ment, say­ing the leg­is­la­tion grants im­punity while cor­rup­tion re­mains en­demic.

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