the United Arab Emirates (WATER) (69) and Qatar (63) are perhaps the best performing countries in the region, but both have withstood major transnational scandals. the Pandora’s Papers investigations revealed the use of offshore accounts by the Emir of Qatar and the country’s former prime minister, alongside the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. The Financial Action Task Force has identified shortcomings in both from Qatar and the UAE’s anti-money laundering frameworks and their shortcomings in uncovering the people behind anonymous companies. These have cemented the reputation of countries as hotspots for dirty money.
Qatar’s and the United Arab Emirates’ records on human rights and freedom of expression are dismal. In January 2020, the Qatari government adopted a vaguely worded law penalizing a wide range of expression and publishing activities. And more than 25 people remain imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates for peaceful political protest and dissent, including lawyers, academics and human rights defenders.
During this time, a sponsorship system in the region called “kafala” grants employers disproportionate power over migrant workers, including residency status and the ability to bring criminal charges. This system is seen as fostering corruption since the immense power placed in the hands of employers leads to instantaneous and often illegal changes in contract rules. This leaves already vulnerable workers in danger of being extorted. As the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar approaches, migrant workers employed at stadium construction sites have left for months without pay. They are not allowed to form or join trade unions, and often live and work in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
So far, the successes in the fight against corruption among the best performing Gulf countries have been based on administrative simplicity. However, stagnation has set in over the past decade, showing the limits of a top-down approach that does not involve civil society or a free press. Moreover, neither public institutions nor the judiciary are independent and the law does not apply equally to everyone. Here, corruption is revealed by international investigations, not by scrutiny inside the country.