Fighting corruption is vital for Lebanon's development

The first question that faces the attempt to fight corruption is where to begin?
by Bassem Ajami

19 February 2019 | 11:56

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 19 February 2019 | 11:56

A file photo of President Michel Aoun (AFP)

BEIRUT: The government tells us that one of its primary goals is to fight corruption. But the facts tell us that this is a huge task. An impossible mission.

According to the 2018 report of Transparency International, which gauges corruption worldwide, Lebanon is the 138th least corrupt nation out of 174 countries. Corruption Rank in Lebanon averaged 115.25 from 2003 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 143 in 2017 and a record low of 63 in 2006.

Corruption is a major obstacle for economic progress in Lebanon. It hinders investments in the country. Deep-rooted patronage networks impose monopolies and undermine competition. And while the Lebanese Penal Code criminalizes most forms of corruption; enforcement of these laws is poor.

Pivotal to the mission of fighting corruption is to limit its goal. One must recognize that eradicating corruption is out of reach. The mosaic structure of Lebanon hinders any serious effort to end corruption. Instead, the primary objective should be to limit the goal to manageable bounds.

The first question that faces the attempt to fight corruption is where to begin?

A good place to start is the judicial system. This is because combating corruption is not a political decision. It is a law enforcement issue. Throughout Lebanon's history, the justice system has, to a large extent, maintained its integrity, even during the 1975-90 civil war. Yet, since then, it has been subjected to considerable political intereference, which it has resisted though with limited success.

If the ruling class is serious about fighting corruption it would start by the appointment of irremovable judges.

The need for irremovable judges is key to having a reliable judicial system. Not only it offers the judges security in their difficult mission, but it also considerably insulates them from political interference. The mechanism for such appointment must be outside the customary practice of "shares allocation" among the ruling class. It must be based only on integrity.

And while there are many judges and potential judges in Lebanon who fit such category, in case such appointment is hindered for one reason or another, it might be a good idea to emulate the courts structure of Dubai.

Since the days of Sheikh Rashid, the founder of modern Dubai, the practice has been to employ foreign judges to Dubai courts. Sheikh Rashid reasoned that, in Dubai, nationals were closely connected by family ties or business interests. This made it difficult to appoint citizens of the emirate to pass impartial judgments. They would be vulnerable, not to political interference, but to powerful social and communal customs.

The second step may be to end the immunity from prosecution that government employees, as well as some professionals, like lawyers and doctors, enjoy. Such immunity only means a lack of confidence in the judicial process. It is mostly used by politicians to protect corruption.

Yet how serious is the effort to combat corruption in Lebanon? We hear condemnations of corruption from all politicians, most of whom are widely believed to be involved in it. Making noises about fighting corruption is hardly an indication of the seriousness of the desire to do so. Actually, the louder such noises become means the less serious is the effort.

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