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.