The past 12 months have seen two key developments in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the anti-corruption field:
1) the announcement of a new anti-corruption unit to be based in the emirate of Abu Dhabi; and
2) the enactment of a new Data Law in the emirate of Dubai, which will see residents of that emirate enjoy enhanced access to certain types of information.
These developments demonstrate the positive progress being made within the two major financial centres of the UAE to combat bribery and corruption. This article considers each development in turn.
New Anti-Corruption Unit in Abu Dhabi
In May 2015, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council announced that it will establish a new anti-corruption unit within the Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority. While several details are yet to be published about the new unit, its primary objective is to ensure that public entities' resources and funds are managed, collected and spent efficiently, effectively, economically and ethically. The new unit will also investigate financial irregularities and corruption, identify gaps in legislation and audit the government's or department's consolidated financial statements.
This development reflects the UAE's commitment to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) (to which all Middle Eastern states, bar Syria, are signatories) and the Arab Convention to Fight Corruption. It is to be hoped that the establishment of the new anti-corruption unit will accelerate the enactment of UAE-wide legislation to address the gaps identified by the UNCAC Implementation Review Group in September 2013,1including, by way of example only, the need to pass legislation concerning:
the protection of witnesses and victims, insofar as they are witnesses, and of reporting persons;
the implementation of Article 16 of UNCAC outlawing bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organisations;
the criminalisation of the active form of bribery in the private sector;
the criminalisation of the active form of trading in influence; and
the expansion of the general scope of predicate offences and to increase the number of predicate offences relating to conduct committed outside the jurisdiction of the UAE.
Draft legislation addressing several of the points above is reported to have been prepared. The next phase therefore should see the proposed laws make their way through the federal legislative process.
New Dubai Data Law
A key recommendation from expert observers of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region's efforts to combat corruption is that there is a need for greater transparency - in terms of enacting and implementing legislation that allows increased access to publicly-held information. With the Dubai Government's recently enacted Dubai Data Law, the emirate may soon lead the region in showcasing the benefits of greater transparency.
In keeping with its global ambitions, high on the Dubai Government's agenda is its desire for Dubai to be among the "smartest" cities worldwide. The Government recently unveiled its vision and strategy for the creation of "Smart Dubai" at www.smartdubai.ae, a site that provides valuable information on various initiatives being undertaken across the emirate, including the Dubai Data Law.
Among the Law's stated objectives is the desire to establish a culture of creativity and innovation in the emirate, enhance transparency and raise the efficiency of services provided by UAE Federal and Dubai government bodies.
It is expected that the new Law will unleash a wave of freely available data about the emirate, creating a myriad of challenges and opportunities for companies and individuals based there. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Law is that businesses, and indeed individuals, that produce, own, publish or exchange any data related to the emirate of Dubai, may be required to make that data available freely, or at least exchange that data with other "Data Providers".
The Dubai Data Law establishes an Open Data regime and a Shared Data regime. A number of cities around the world have implemented Open Data regimes, and these are traditionally concerned with making government held information freely available. What is unique about the Dubai Data Law however, is that it goes beyond the collection and dissemination of data held by the city government and its departments to allow what the Law refers to as the "Competent Authority" to designate non-governmental bodies as "Data Providers".
This means that, subject to further guidance by the Competent Authority, designated private Data Providers will have to comply with the Dubai Data Law, by making available and publishing "Dubai Data" they hold which is determined to be Open Data, or exchanging with other Data Providers the Dubai Data they hold which is determined to be Shared Data.
To our knowledge, this is the first regime in the world that may potentially require private bodies to make certain data they hold Open Data or Shared Data, and emphasises the vital importance that the Dubai Government foresees Open Data and Shared Data will have on the future economy.
Whilst the Dubai Data Law was issued in December 2015, how the Law will work in practice is yet to be seen. There are a number of steps that still need to be undertaken for it to be fully effective, including the establishment of a Competent Authority which is expected to issue or approve policies regarding data protection, intellectual property and data standards.
Having signed the UNCAC in 2005 and ratified it in 2006, the UAE deserves praise for taking steps that go some way to furthering the attainment of the targets that the UNCAC represents. That said, there is no room for complacency. As Transparency International has acknowledged, the MENA region generally "lags behind in terms of key robust laws that can have a significant impact on improving integrity, transparency and accountability."2
Presently, the UAE ranks 23rd out of 167 countries on Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perception Index, with an overall score of 70. To put that figure in its regional context, the UAE's fellow member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have scores ranging from 71 (Qatar) at the top end, to 45 (Oman) at the lower end. While these figures are all above the average score of 39 for the wider MENA region, the UAE and other GCC member states are among the wealthiest countries in the world (as measured by GDP per capita) and are striving to do even better. Further, the legislative gaps already identified by the UNCAC Implementation Review Group need to be addressed.
The establishment of a new anti-corruption authority in Abu Dhabi and the enactment of a new Data Law in Dubai are welcome developments in the global effort to combat corruption - especially in a region with a historic poor record on such matters. Further details relating to these initiatives however will need to be released and studied before their true impact can be evaluated. Similarly, the pace of legislative reform will need to improve if the goals of the UNCAC are to be realised in the near term.