Anti-Corruption Advocates Hail Actions Against Niger's Former Prime Minister

25 June 2008

Advocates of good governance in Africa and civil society activists inNiger say parliament's decision to open the way for a corruption trialagainst a former prime minister is a step in the right direction. Theaccused says he is the victim of political machinations to prevent himfrom running in the next presidential election. Naomi Schwarz has morefrom VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The 72-28 vote byNiger's parliament to lift the immunity of former prime minister HamaAmadou is being hailed by civil society activists.

The head of aleading Nigerien civil society organization, Issa Kassoum, says this isthe first time Niger's government has taken on such a high-rankingofficial.

"It is the first time when our parliament take adecision to make democracy to make justice go over," he said. "So wethink it is a good thing. And a very good example."

He says it shows no one is above the law.

Formerprime minister Amadou has been accused of misusing more than $200,000meant to help develop the local press. The parliamentary vote meansAmadou can be brought to trial in Niger's High Court and if convictedput in jail.

Amadou denies wrongdoing. He says the charges against him are a campaign to block him from running for president in 2009.

Amadouhad been considered a likely successor to his long-time ally, NigerPresident Mamadou Tandja. But the prime minister, who took office in2000, was ousted last year by a parliamentary no-confidence vote, whileunder the cloud of a separate corruption scandal.

Ibrahima Kane,of London-based advocacy group, Open Society Foundation, says thecharges against the former prime minister send a strong message thatthe rule of law will be respected in Niger.

He says this case shows Niger's government is leaping ahead of other West African countries in enforcing anti-corruption laws.

"Here,what you see is the parliament using its prerogative to do the jobproperly by trying to find out how the public fund was used byauthorities in charge of the daily management of the country," saidKane.

The former prime minister has defended his use of themoney, saying he was instructed by the president to use the funds topromote Niger's government activities in the media.

Kane says hehopes the truth will be uncovered during a fair trial.  He says if theprime minister's allegations prove true, he says he hopes that justicewill not stop there.

"Given that nobody is above the law, thatany person involved in the misuse of the money should also be exposed,even if it is the president of the Republic," he said.

Niger's president won re-election for a second five-year term in 2004. The constitution bars him from running again.