Fighting against corruption in the construction industry

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 15:42

Ali Abdel Mansour has paid a high price for entering the fight against corruption; he has had his home torched, lost his job and faced several threats of violence. Before the revolution, his fight looked bleak and unattainable. But today with the new freedom rights Tunisians have attained after the revolution the future looks brighter.

In 2010, 35-year-old Ali Abdel Mansour was hired as a welder for a construction project to build a bridge between the towns of Sfax and Gbes to connect them to Tunis city center. But it was not long before Ali discovered something about the project that was not entirely as it should be.

Ali noticed that some of materials that that were being used to build the bridge did not meet the safety requirements needed to build such a structure. He noticed that many of the iron pipes being used to build the foundation of the bridge were too thin and would snap over time.

"I feared that someone would get hurt or killed. The bridge could collapse because the iron pipes could easily snap and cause mass fatalities. I chose instinctively to respond to my conscience and the feared the faulty materials would result in one of the bridges collapsing and killing someone" - said Ali.

Ali immediately contacted the project leader to warn them of the error. "I feared that someone would be killed or get seriously injured as a consequence of the bad material" - Ali says.

But it turned out that the managers were well aware the labourers were using poor quality materials. And their defensive reaction suggested to Ali that something corrupt was afoot; most likely, the manager was pocketing extra cash for using the poor quality materials.

"When I called the manager and explained to him what a catastrophe the deficiencies would cause, I was asked to keep quiet. He told me that I probably exaggerating and that it was not my job to observe what was in order" - says Ali.

Instead of listening to Ali to correct any deficiencies and ensure that the material met proper guidelines; the responsible project leaders began to threaten Ali and fired him from his position. He was left without a job and with the knowledge that one day the bridge could collapse and kill many hundreds of people.

As a last attempt Ali contacted the Housing and Construction Ministry in Tunisia, which monitors construction projects across the country and should respond with an investigation

commission. The Ministry had already heard about Ali's case after filing a complaint against his former employer, they in turn, filed a complaint against him to the ministry for false accusations.

Now Ali stood against his former workplace, one claim against another. He was exhausted, frustrated and had no economic surplus for the costs of the court case. After Ali was fired, he could not find a new job because of the harassment and the false accusations that had been spread about him.

"I got threats that something bad would happen to my family if I did not stop interfering. My reputation in the industry was destroyed; I felt persecuted and could not support my own family. The bank would no longer lend me money so I had to sell my car and several of my possessions to support my family" - says Ali.

The threats against Ali became more and more aggressive. One evening whilst Ali was out on a family visit with his wife and children, his house was burnt down. Ali saw this as a sign that the responsible person would take every measure to put a lid on his case. Ali did not want his family be hurt, so decided to move to another village to hide out.

Ali reluctantly dropped the charges against the company after he could not get support to move on with the case.

A few years later, lawyers from ActionAid partner I-WATCH came in contact with Ali and decided to take his case against the ministry.

I-WATCH emerged after the revolution 2011, with the aim of protecting whistleblowers and corruption victims. For people like Ali Abdel Mansour who had lost hope to achieve justice and speak out about dangerous offenses, the organization ́s support means everything.

I WATCH is working with Ali to obtain a financial compensation for the huge losses he suffered and well as to bring those responsible for unsafe practices in the construction of the bridge to be held to account It has given the young Tunisian new hope and he now expects a response from the construction ministry in the coming months.

"I acted at that time on my conscience because I did not want anyone to lose their lives as a consequence of the corruption that prevailed in the construction project. I only dream of justice and that I can get on with my life with a relieved heart" - says Ali.

ActionAid has been working with I-WATCH since 2014, with particular focus on empowering young people and enhancing their skills to hold governments to account I'WATCH was started by a group of people after the Tunisian revolution in March 2011 with the aim of changing the law in favor of corruption victims and whistleblowers in Tunisia and to act as a "watchdog" for the country's governmental, political and economic institutions.

Ali Abdel Mansour is not the source's real name. I-WATCH, referring to the Tunisian law on the protection of personal data chose Ali ́s anonymity. ActionAid ARI's editorial staff is aware of Ali's real name.