On Lebanon's corruption

As a rule of thumb, Lebanon is still implementing outdated mechanisms to fight bribery and corruption.
by Shawki Ahwash

17 December 2018 | 18:05

Source: by Annahar

  • by Shawki Ahwash
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 17 December 2018 | 18:05

Cranes remove roadblocks and barbed barriers surrounding the commercial district, which for years had been choked off by security measures, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (AP)

For decades and to this day, there has been much hype, statistical data and a plethora of documentary evidence on corruption plaguing the Lebanese bureaucracy and putting the nation under the yoke of large budgetary deficits.

However, efforts of the Lebanese administration to establish a system based on merit and fight corruption were of little or no avail.

Data from NGOs and multilateral organizations like Transparency International (TI), World Bank Group (WBG), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and others indicate that corruption is a major reason for poverty and an obstacle to development and prosperity.

Bribery, corruption, nepotism and other malfeasances have huge ramifications on any organization leading most of the time to ineffectiveness and even to systemic failure especially in the absence of controls.

As Lebanese grit their teeth in silent fury and succumb to despair, another more serious threat looms on the horizon that will not only perpetuate malicious practices but also make them cohabitate with corruption as a destiny that has been bestowed on them by the forces of fatalism.

The “threat” surrounds the failure to devise a sound and comprehensive methodology, Lebanon is in dire need of fighting corruption and its overarching repercussions on the economy and society at large.

As a rule of thumb, Lebanon is still implementing outdated mechanisms to fight bribery and corruption, relying most of the time on lethargic public oversight bodies lacking the necessary expertise to counter fraudulent acts and deceptive schemes.

In the Lebanese public space, corruption takes several forms and is committed via public contracts and procurements, facilitation or “grease” payments, embezzlement of public funds, abuse of office, trading in influence and other suspicious acts.

Results achieved so far on the administrative reform level provide ample evidence that old-school reactive control measures are useless and ineffective in detecting fraud, and fall short of framing an offense against complicit public servants who should otherwise be criminalized under the law.

Coupled with political meddling and reform politicization, these malpractices can only exacerbate the problem and turn the fight against corruption into an uphill battle which becomes more costly if won over by corruption conduits.

Having said that, and since Lebanon has lately enacted a bundle of modern laws underscoring the importance of transparency and disclosure of wrongdoing known as “Whistleblowing”, immediate attention should be given now to hiring a new mindset and caliber to fight fraud and corruption.

Yet, to bolster these professional skill sets and allow them to function properly in a sluggish bureaucracy, they need to be backed by a strong political will and determination. Mediocracy and a generalist legal knowledge are no more a panacea to detect fraudulent and corrupt schemes committed by public servants who have gone the extra mile in devising successful concealment strategies to keep their wrongdoing undetected.

Therefore, specialized anti-fraud and anti-financial crime professionals are much needed today in the public space to mitigate fraud and corruption risks draining the nation’s coffers and diverting taxpayers’ funds to private accounts instead of being invested in education, health, and other developmental projects.

In a nutshell, these new skill sets may contribute to better governance in the public sector and will definitely serve as a deterrent to culprits who are often driven by bad intent to bribe or get bribed through giving or receiving financial or other advantages in connection with the "improper performance" of a position.

The “tradition” of vindicating high-ranking dishonest civil servants and colluding public agencies for mere sectarian or political considerations is implicating Lebanon’s relations with the international community, which remains a primary source of funding and financing to develop the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.

Finally, if Lebanon still wishes to attract foreign direct investments, protect financial integrity, and mitigate reputational risks, the “government” needs to introduce drastic reforms to create a more transparent and accountable public sector capable of criminalizing wrongdoers and bringing them to court for a just trial instead of concealing their true identities. 

Show Comments

An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.