UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Eritrea - Corruption

Eritrea has historically suffered less from corruption than many other nations on the African continent, but many indications suggest that corruption is on the rise. Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Index ranked Eritrea 160 out of 177 countries for corruption perception, "the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians by business people and country analysts." Eritrea’s ranking had been sliding downward over the previous three years, perhaps as the wartime spirit of self-sacrifice has given way to greater cynicism on the part of citizens coping with economic privation. Members of the armed forces are reportedly engaged in illicit trade in arms and black market sales of goods such as diesel fuel and cement.

The states of Kassala, Gedaref, and the Red Sea make up the region known as eastern Sudan. The area has long been known for smuggling activities, in which weapons trafficking is part of a larger criminal enterprise that includes the illegal movement of goods and humans between Eritrea and the Sudan. Illicit weapon routes that end in Port Sudan, the capital of the Red Sea State, and Massawa on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea. As Eritrea grew more isolated regionally, eastern Sudan became a more crucial gateway for Eritrea. A shared border, common kinship, and a long history of political involvement in the Sudan all give the Government of Eritrea a distinct advantage in the region. The two countries share a 660 km-long undemarcated border where their citizens and goods can move freely without visas and with minimal restrictions.

Some persons claim that civil court cases may be influenced by the Office of the President, or that decisions are rendered based on political factors. The President’s Office has in the past assigned housing to high officials and military officers, in some cases forcing original owners, whether Diaspora members or foreigners from the colonial period, to sell property at discounted rates to address the housing needs of regime loyalists. The practice continues, but original owners have insisted, with some success, on fairer prices for compensation over the years.

The GSE controls most foreign exchange, virtually the only legal source of imports, creating illicit profit opportunities for smugglers. Eritrea is not a party to international anti-corruption agreements, although officials have previously claimed that they want to subscribe to such instruments. The GSE does not publish a national budget or national accounts.

Unstable political conditions, strict regulations regarding imports, and lack of consistency regarding granting of exit visas for Eritrean nationals have encouraged bribery and money laundering, specifically with respect to those responsible for customs and immigration.

Persons seeking executive or judicial services sometimes report that they obtained services more easily after paying a “gift” or bribe through a system of patronage and cronyism. Petty corruption within the executive branch was based largely on family connections and used to facilitate access to social benefits. Some persons who benefited from preferential treatment due to perceived loyalty to the government subsequently were denied services such as housing when their political loyalties appeared to change. Judicial corruption was also a problem, and authorities generally did not prosecute acts such as property expropriation when military or security officials or those seen as being in favor with the government were responsible.

The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and others cited allegations that military leaders were involved in trafficking in persons. Members of the armed forces also reportedly engaged in illicit trade in arms and black market sales of goods such as diesel fuel and cement. There was some evidence members of the armed forces collaborated with members of the Ethiopian armed forces to facilitate emigration across the Ethiopian border. Military members also reportedly visited Eritrean refugees in camps in Sudan to offer illicit passage to third nations in exchange for the payment of large fees. Some who accepted passage under these circumstances claimed to have been abused.

As most of the contractors and businesses in Eritrea are de facto government entities owned by the sole political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), they are able to secure nearly all government tenders. While the process may appear outwardly transparent, as the contracts are released for tender and multiple bidders usually respond, all of the bidders are usually PFDJ-owned companies, and part of the same conglomerate, ensuring all contracts awarded essentially end up with the GSE. The GSE assured a monopoly over construction contracts by expropriating all private construction businesses in 2006 and restricting import licenses to only the PFDJ companies. During this expropriation, many of the construction specialists, engineers, etc. working for those companies were arrested. Over a year later, some still remain imprisoned.

There are inconsistencies between the tenders and the final projects, in particular with regards to the tender amounts. For example, a tender may be released for construction of a school. The GSE announces that a specific sum is available for the project, often provided by an international donor. Once the tender has been awarded, contract signed and work completed several years later, the GSE publicly announces project completion for an amount significantly lower than initially agreed upon with the donor. The GSE then trumpets the accomplishment of the project in the state-owned media while simultaneously presenting the donor with cost outlays for similar projects three to four times the amount they have just quoted in their public relations campaigns.

The difference earned is kept by the PFDJ-owned companies and used by the PFDJ for off-the-book purchases such as weapons, thus circumventing the official GSE expenditures that could be seen by the International Monetary Fund during its assessments of public expenditures. For those international contracts stipulating the use of outside auditors, the only companies available in Eritrea are those run by the GSE or PFDJ. Without independent auditors or transparency, the GSE can reap unknown profits through its companies with little to no accountability.

The October 2007 assassination attempt on Colonel Simon Ghebredenghil, the second-in-command at the Government of the State of Eritrea's (GSE) National Security Agency (ANS) lifted a corner on the veil over corrupt activities in Eritrea. The GSE, and many Eritreans, fondly boast of Eritrea as a corruption-free state - painting a rosy picture of an honest government with a trustworthy and honorable military, a place where the rule of law and justice prevails over the law of the jungle.

With the events leading up to, and investigations following, the assassination attempt, normally reticent Eritreans started sharing more stories about how Eritrea truly operates -- and the extent to which the GSE condones and even fosters corruption, ranging from preferential treatment to segments of society to misrepresentation and misuse of government resources. While stories of corruption in Eritrea may pale in comparison to the activities of other African regimes, these anecdotes nonetheless dispel the GSE's myth that Eritrea is corruption-free, and show a nation where the privileged few are getting rich with the blessing of the GSE.

The GSE's strict exit restrictions on its citizens has resulted in an expanding under-the-table business for those working in the Immigration Office. For women ages 18 to 40 and men ages 18 to 50, i.e. those falling within the age range subject to mandatory national/military service, getting exit visas proves nearly impossible. Students wishing to study abroad, individuals wishing to visit families, potential employees seeking job interviews abroad (even within the UN system), and experts wishing to present papers at international conferences ) all are subject to these restrictive requirements.

As the qualification requirements are not defined or publicly disseminated by the GSE, immigration officers have significant leeway in determining who receives an exit visa. Sometimes individuals are expected to deposit 100,000 nakfa (6,666 USD) or more or provide property deeds as an "insurance policy" that they will return. No one knows where the money goes, or who is responsible for holding the money. No law exists that individuals must leave this "insurance." The money is allegedly refundable.

Fraudulent identity cards and especially National Service exemption documents are common in Eritrea. Reportedly, such documents are faked and sold by government and military officials on the black market. There is a high demand for documents which make it possible for people to travel inside the country without being arrested at one of the many checkpoints throughout the country, such as: papers stating that the individual is on leave from his/her military service, sickness certificates, exemptions from military/National Service and the like.

For several years, there has been a small but prosperous black market for different kind of military permits. One can buy an empty leave form stamped and signed in which it remains only to fill the blanks with the conscript's name, route, and the time validity. However, in 2007 such permits were still quite expensive. The cheaper ones went for 700 Nakfa (roughly 40 USD), that is to say, about a half of a monthly salary for a NS [National Service]-exempted civil servant for a validity period which can not last for more than a few weeks.

Falsification has become the most common means for deceiving Military Police in Eritrea. The post-2004 ad hoc travel permits are technically easier to forge and modify than the previous ID cards. Without a picture attached, permits are merely letters with a stamp and a signature from an official from the Ministry where holders are assigned. Thus, generalisation of such laissez-passer has not significantly enhanced the efficiency of civil National Service conscripts control.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 03-06-2015 20:18:23 ZULU