Mopti — Mali is poised to adopt a new anti-corruption law ahead of its presidential election in July, but civil activists say they doubt a strengthened law will have much impact unless the judiciary also is reformed.
Public frustration over corruption was one factor behind the 2012 military coup, which disrupted 20 years of democracy in Mali.
After President Amadou Toumani Toure was removed over discontent in his handling of a rebellion of Islamists and ethnic Tuareg armed groups, the junta put on display riches amassed by former government officials.
Now the transitional government wants to put in place stronger laws to crack down on bribery, fraud and abuse of public office, as it prepares for the presidential election on July 28.
Mali is one of the five poorest countries in the world, and development aid is flooding in to help rebuild after the rebellion in its northern region. It has asked for $2.5 billion in assistance.
Malick Coulibaly, the Malian minister of justice, said the current 1982 law is inadequate to address the more complex and varied ways that corrupt officials plunder government coffers and illegally enrich themselves.
"Financial and economical delinquency is a Malian reality that compromises the basis of our young democracy," Coulibaly said.
"The proliferation of wrongdoings to the country's economy by unscrupulous servants wanting to get rich quickly is still a serious problem."
The ministers' counsel is expected to adopt the new law on Wednesday and then the National Assembly would consider the measure, said Alassane Diarra, press officer for the Ministry of Justice.
Mali is ranked on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index at 105 out of 174 countries, with a score of 34 out of a possible 100.
The World Bank ranks Mali in the 25-50th percentile on control of corruption and rule of law in its governance indicators.
Ben Ascofare, a high school teacher in the Malian capital Bamako, said like many citizens, he was angered by revelations of the plundering of state resources by government officials and wants officials held to account.
"Those who steal money from the country outrage everyone, for they are paid well to manage that money," he said. "What they take belongs to all the Malians, therefore they should not use it for their personal needs.
"I think there is no justice in Mali. Our justice is represented by people who are not patriotic and don't have a professional conscience," Ascofare added.
"They sue unimportant bandits and ignore the big ones who are generally politically affiliated. But you need to punish severely corrupt officials to combat corruption."
NEW MEASURES, REAL IMPACT?
The current government says the new law would strengthen the ability of judges to punish those found guilty of corruption, which should help rebuild citizens' trust in authority.
Aliou Sangare, a Malian lawyer, said the proposal to shift some of the burden of proof onto the defendant would be an improvement.
"Under the existing law on illegal enrichment, the prosecutor must provide proof of corruption. This is going to change with the new law. The defendant will have first the responsibility to present proof of his or her innocence," Sangare said.
Other changes would bring Mali into line with international anti-corruption agreements, including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the African Union's convention on preventing and combating corruption to which Mali is a signatory.
Civil society activists, however, are unconvinced that it will have much impact.
"It won't be the first time Mali has passed a law on corruption. The governments that have ruled the country since independence took decisions to combat corruption, and they didn't succeed," said Moussa Traoré, a former politician.
"I have been a parliament member from 2002 to 2007, and I have witnessed how public money has been misused. People become rich using the country's financial resources that are intended for development projects," Traoré said.
For the new law to have real impact, the Malian judiciary also needs to be cleaned up and corrupt civil servants within the court system removed, civil activists said.
A crackdown on looting government coffers would benefit Mali immensely, said Sangare.
"Contrary to what many think, Mali isn't a poor country. It is the bribery and corruption among the leaders that is the main cause of our underdevelopment," he said.