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How will Lebanon’s “Let’s get to work” government face the challenges of corruption?

Lebanese Transparency Association

Every day, Lebanese citizens are forced to endure the precarious state of public services, which thanks to high levels of corruption suffer from consistent underfunding. From dilapidated railways and public buses, to poor public utilities and garbage collection, the government has historically failed to meet basic needs of its citizens.

In this environment, during the parliamentary elections last May, multiple political parties vowed to fight corruption in their campaign promises. A host of promises were made, appealing to citizens tired of the their daily experiences with corruption. Yet these programs and slogans remain unfulfilled and few anti-corruption reforms have been implemented.

In fact, last year, Lebanese media published a series of reports exposing government officials who accepted financial bribes at various public institutions, including several ministries and security agencies.

Corruption perceptions

According to the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which measures public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories around the world, Lebanon scores a pitiful 28 out of 100 for the sixth consecutive year. This is well below the regional average of 39 out of 100 for the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region.

In addition, according to the 2016 Global Corruption Barometer, which surveyed more than 10,000 citizens in nine countries and territories in the MENA region, 92 per cent of Lebanese citizens think corruption has increased in their country.

The survey also highlights a widening gap in trust between the citizens and government. More than three-quarters of Lebanese respondents think the government is doing a poor job in fighting corruption. Unfortunately, despite this, only about half of citizens that think ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Current corruption challenges

Given these issues, the new Lebanese government faces some key challenges in restoring citizens’ trust in government, rekindling the oversight of institutions, improving accountability, and eliminating corruption and waste in public administration.

Members of Lebanon’s Cabinet in front of the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon in February 2019. (Image: Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Government via AP)

Last April, the government developed and launched a national anti-corruption strategy, including a series of corresponding draft laws. In addition, the government stressed its commitment to enforcing reforms agreed at the 2018 CEDRE conference, which brought together ministers and investors from around the world, including officials from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Laws to help citizens monitor government

In the past two years, the Lebanese Parliament adopted a series of anti-corruption laws, including an access to information law, which grants citizens the right to access and consult information and documents from the administration.

This law is a first step towards strengthening ties between the government and citizens, and gives citizens an opportunity to learn, observe and monitor the government and promote transparency.

Yet, in practice, many public administrators and officials have not vigorously implemented the law. They claim that additional legal paperwork is necessary to comply, adding an extra unnecessary barrier to implementation.

Parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon (Image: fmajor/iStock)

Legislative hurdles

The Parliament also adopted two additional laws to strengthen transparency in the petroleum sector and protect whistleblowers. However, for their entry into force to become more effective, these laws require the establishment of a national anti-corruption commission.

Unfortunately, Parliament has yet to vote on the draft law pertaining to the anti-corruption commission. Similarly, other laws that aim to strengthen transparency and good governance are also pending approval.

Where to go from here

In light of this, our challenge today is to revitalize the legislative system in Parliament and strengthen the oversight and accountability of government agencies. This is the best way to counteract corruption in government, where most corrupt individuals are either part of the ruling political structure or have close ties to the people in power.

We call on all Lebanese constituencies, including government, private businesses and citizens to consolidate efforts to fight corruption, strengthen transparency and improve good governance in Lebanon.

*Grassroots Manager at the Lebanese Transparency Association — No corruption

This blog is part of a 25th anniversary series showcasing anti-corruption efforts from chapters around the Transparency International movement.

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