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Sharp teeth needed to nip Ivory Coast corruption, professor says

When Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny was advising members of a commission set up to investigate a government housing scandal, he told them to act quickly. Otherwise, he warned, they, too, might be caught up in the web of corruption.

Ivory Coast, like many African countries, is afflicted with bribe-taking and embezzlement on the part of some officials. Many of the Ivory Coast neighbors, in fact, have governments installed by coups ostensibly mounted to root out the corruption of their predecessors.

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Corruption has not created instability in this nation. Ivory Coast continues to enjoy stable civilian rule - in large part because of the prestige of its veteran President - but there is increasing concern that public officials are using their offices for illegal personal gain.

Front-page headlines in a government-run newspaper reading ''Honesty of government employees, guarantee of the nation's stability'' reflect official concern with the problem.

Now one Ivorian university law professor suggests that the nation should find out what leads officials toward corruption to take strong steps against the practice. The remedies, suggests National University law Professor Hyacinthe Sarassoro, should be both preventive and repressive.

Mr. Sarassoro, who has written a a book entitled ''Integrity - the Civil Servant's Duty,'' says conflicting pressures of modern consumerism and traditional African society push many civil servants into corrupt practices.

They feel obliged to display the three v's - ''voiture, villa, video,'' that are symbols of prestige and success here. At the same time a young newly married civil servant must support not only his own family, but his and his wife's relatives. Government salaries are usually insufficient to support such life styles and obligations.

Professor Sarassoro notes that corruption can lead to popular resentment against the administrative elite. It can deter potential investors, especially those from countries where anticorruption legislation is severe, he says. And it often results in expatriate staff holding supervisory roles, thus blocking promotion of African staff, he points out.

Improvements in working conditions would remove much of the incentive to engage in corruption, the professor says. And stricter controls would cut out a lot of opportunities for corruption.

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The professor suggests that funds that have been embezzled should be repaid. He also proposes forming a ''league against corruption,'' but unless it is equipped with sharp teeth, he says, Ivorians would probably treat such a group as a joke.

Actual cases of corruption cited by the professor include that of an Ivorian police officer who was sent to arrest a Frenchwoman on behalf of the London-based International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol. Instead of arresting her, the officer was took a a substantial ''gift'' from the woman and let her go free.

Professor Sarassoro says corruption in Ivory Coast ranges from embezzlement of public funds to the use of official cars to take the officials' children to school.

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