Lebanon’s uphill battle against corruption

Lebanon ranked 138th globally on the index of 180 countries and 13th among 22 Arab countries.
Sunday 10/02/2019
Vice-president of the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) Mosbah Majzoub (C) announcing the CPI ranking of Lebanon. (Lebanese Transparency Association)
A stubborn problem. Vice-president of the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) Mosbah Majzoub (C) announcing the CPI ranking of Lebanon. (Lebanese Transparency Association)

BEIRUT - “Lebanon’s shameful grade of 28 over 100 has not changed for the sixth consecutive year,” Mosbah Majzoub, vice-president of the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) said in announcing the results of the Transparency International’s “Corruption Perceptions Index 2018.”

Lebanon ranked 138th globally on the index of 180 countries and 13th among 22 Arab countries. The low score was largely blamed on political corruption and conflicts of interests, said Majzoub.

“These figures are addressed to all the Lebanese, be they politicians, officials, public servants or regular citizens. It is an alarm call for all to join forces in the long and open battle of fighting corruption and establishing the state of law,” he said.

Majzoub noted that Lebanon’s 2018 ranking improved from 143rd place in 2017 but only “because other countries slipped on the chart” and not as the result of improvement in the corruption-plagued country. The less corrupt a country is deemed, the closer its ranking is to zero.

Corruption in Lebanon permeates all levels of society, as reflected by the country’s global and regional average performances scores in most governance areas. Political parties, public administration, the parliament and the police are perceived as the most corrupt institutions of the country.

Bribery, nepotism and other malpractices persist in the public sector with grave ramifications on the economy and society at large. Corruption is considered a major reason for continuing poverty and is an obstacle to development and prosperity.

Lebanon established a Ministry of Combating Corruption in 2016 to introduce reforms but political instability and government disruptions have slowed its work, anti-corruption Minister Nicolas Tueni said.

“We have started from scratch with zero capacities. Nonetheless, we devised a national anti-corruption strategy in cooperation with the Ministry of Administrative Development,” Tueni said. “The draft law for the establishment of the anti-corruption agency is ready for voting in parliament. The blueprint for (a new) illicit enrichment law is under discussion and I have presented a draft law to centralise public tenders.”

“However, the caretaker government is not entitled to start implementing the national anti-corruption strategy. We need a functional government and I am confident that progress will be made in 2019 with the new government,” Tueni said, adding that the European Union granted the ministry $3.1 million to speed up reforms.

Lebanon formed a government January 31 after more than eight months of deadlock but the post of anti-corruption minister was abolished in the new administration. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said parliament was working on new anti-corruption legislation, recognising, nonetheless, that Lebanon had difficulty in implementing anti-corruption regulations.

Parliament enacted laws to strengthen transparency. These include legislation protecting whistle-blowers, strengthening transparency in the petroleum sector and access to information of public institutions. However, those laws have not been implemented.

“The same applies to the Integrity and Anti-corruption Commission, which is yet to be established though it is essential for the proper application of the laws,” Majzoub said.

“We need these laws, even if they are not effective immediately, because we have to start somewhere. However, we should increase pressure to activate them and we all must be involved: the media, the civil society associations and the public.”

“Almost 90% of public procurement and tenders are being arranged through consensus and barter without going through official channels of the tenders’ office. We have to expose such practices and raise our voice to make a difference,” Majzoub added.

A shadow report by LTA, which is the Lebanese chapter of Transparency International, said Lebanon has an almost complete anti-corruption legal framework but it is undermined by several gaps.

For instance, political parties and individual candidates are not required to disclose campaign financial statements or identify campaign donors and accounts of political parties are not subject to independent scrutiny.

Although the illicit enrichment law applies to all public servants, it suffers from a weak monitoring system that could detect fluctuations in public servants’ wealth. The fiscal system lacks transparency because of constraints in legal aspects regarding accessibility or disclosure of the accounts held by high-level politicians and their affiliates and that financial information is not accessible by the public.

Also, Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system fuels patronage networks and clientelism, which undermine the country’s governance system.

Drastic reforms to create a more transparent and accountable public sector capable of prosecuting wrongdoers are needed if Lebanon wishes to receive international financial support pledged at last year’s CEDRE conference, attract foreign investment, protect financial integrity and mitigate reputational risks, officials said.