Bouteflika sacks officials in corruption drive




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 24 August 1999

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria yesterday dismissed 22 of the country’s 47 provincial governors in an effort to stem corruption.

The sackings come as Mr Bouteflika is seeking public support for a referendum on a peace deal to end the conflict between the government and Islamist militants, in which 100,000 people have died since 1992.

Islamist groups have long accused successive administrations of tolerating corruption. Mr Bouteflika’s move is seen as an attempt to win support by responding to discontent with the government. Since becoming president in April after an election from which all six opposition candidates withdrew claiming electoral fraud, Mr Bouteflika has sought to disprove accusations that he is overly influenced by army officers opposed to political reform.

He has said he will resign if he loses the September 16 referendum, which offers Islamist militants an amnesty if they lay down their arms.

A statement by the president said the dismissals were the first of a series. No prosecutions were planned, though the 47 new and incumbent governors had been told “they must fully realise that there will be a strict, objective assessment of the quality of their services”.

Further reforms are not likely until after the referendum, which is expected to lead to a government reshuffle. By sacking those accused of corruption, Mr Bouteflika has distanced himself from many officials appointed by Liamine Zeroual, his predecessor, and from the army hierarchy.

Mr Bouteflika’s efforts at ending the conflict are regarded as more dependent upon tangible steps toward political reform than the outcome of the referendum, reflecting a lack of confidence in voting procedures and accusations of ballot rigging in Algeria’s last two elections.

Attempts to undermine Mr Bouteflika’s claims that Algeria’s violence has been on the wane since he opened dialogue with the armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) have been intensified by other Islamists opposed to the peace-for-amnesty deal agreed with the FIS in June.

Members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Da’wa wal Djihad, who oppose the deal, have stepped up attacks against civilians. GIA militants dressed in army uniforms killed 17 people, mostly children, last week in a town south of Algiers. Earlier the GIA slaughtered 29 people in Bechar province south-west of Algiers.

About 200 civilians have been killed since the government and the FIS agreed the deal, under which the FIS ended its guerrilla war and agreed to fight alongside government forces against the GIA. The government subsequently released thousands of FIS supporters.

© Financial Times