MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Three officials have been arrested for mismanaging a scholarship scheme that sends Somali students to Turkey, Somalia's education minister said Saturday, a sign that the fledgling government is committed to fighting the corruption that contributes to the country's failed-state status.
Minister Maryan Qasim Ahmed said the officials were arrested for offering the scholarships to undeserving students. The officials include the ministry's former director general, who faced widespread accusations that he took bribes, Ahmed said.
"We are aware of the arrest of the ministry's former director general and two other persons after public complaints about fraud," Ahmed said.
A probe into the scam is under way, she said.
Ranked as the world's most corrupt country by Transparency International, Somalia is now recovering from decades of war and strife. Somalia held elections last year following the success of Somali and African forces in ousting Islamist extremists from the capital, Mogadishu, a city that is now coming to life for the first time in 20 years. The city government has repaired potholed streets and installed streetlights, and Western-style restaurants are opening, including near Mogadishu's beach front, where men and women swim together without fear of punishment from militants.
In a sign of the country's progress, the United States last week officially recognized Somalia's government for the first time in two decades. The U.S. hadn't recognized a Somali government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
At his inauguration in September Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud vowed to fight official corruption and to create "an effective justice system" that serves all Somalis.
"I promise (that) my government will deliver a new democratic beginning," Mohamud said at the time.
The arrest of the education officials suggests that Mohamud's government will at least try to combat the kind of graft that, along with prolonged war, contributed to Somalia's reputation as a dysfunctional state.
In a similar case of suspected corruption, Somalia's chief justice has suspended three appellate court judges for unlawfully releasing a defendant charged with the killing of two foreigners who worked for the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
"They were demoted and suspended because they have released a criminal without due process," Chief Justice Aideed Ilko Hanaf said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The suspect, Ahmed Salad Hassan, was charged with the murder of Belgian Philippe Havet and Indonesian Andrias Karel Keiluhu inside the aid group's compound in Mogadishu in December 2011.