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Niger's Military Government Opens Fight Against Corruption

Niger's military government says mining contracts signed by ousted President Mamadou Tandja appear to be have been issued legally. The review is part of what the military says is a fight against corruption before it returns the country to civilian rule next year.

Niger's military government says it is fighting corruption with a 40-member commission of soldiers, tax experts and accountants to recover funds that might have been stolen during President Tandja's rule.

Government spokesman Mahaman Laouali Dandah says there is ample evidence that corruption is an important part of doing business in Niger.

Dandah says there is a general corruption in the country. Even the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account evaluated parts of the fight against corruption in Niger and said there are some weaknesses in that effort. Dandah says that weakness prevented Niger from being eligible for a full MCA compact program during the Tandja administration.

So Niger is instead part of an MCA threshold program that includes funds to improve its fight against corruption.

Dandah says the military government must fight against corruption because where there is corruption, there is a problem of governance. And a problem of governance is a very sensitive issue. Fighting corruption is not easy for this government or the previous government because when you say it is a problem of governance, some of those in government feel it is an attack against themselves.

Bagna Aissata Fall is a member of Niger's transitional consultative counsel and heads the local chapter of the anti-graft group Transparency International. She says it is too soon to say whether there has been a major shift against corruption but believes the military's actions so far are reassuring.

Fall says the new commission is a way for civil society to measure the military's willingness to fight corruption. But she says they are not going to get a blank check. She wants to see concrete action against returning to corruption, saying this fight must be a reality, not just a political speech.

Fall says she has hopes for this commission but is waiting to see how it will function. Past commissions were blocked by political interference, so she hopes the military will not interfere with its work.

With less than a year to go before new elections in one of the world's poorest countries, government spokesman Dandah says the military hopes to set the next civilian government on a better course.

Dandah says this transitional period is an opportunity to send a strong message to begin important reforms. Once this work begins, he says it will have popular support because fighting corruption is an important issue for people in Niger. And once people take ownership of this program, they will not allow a future government to return to corruption.

Niger's main opposition party is expressing some skepticism about the new commission, saying previous efforts to rout out corruption have been more public relations than effective law enforcement.