BY: JOEY GEADAH
The overall Lebanese modus operandi is outlined by the concept of Sectarian Consociationalism, which dictates a confessional power-sharing arrangement. It is pursued by the political echelon that is constituted of feudalistic leaders, eminent businessmen with political affiliations and even renowned religious figures. Traditionally, these actors have shaped the domestic political life undermining a healthy democratization process, that influenced the public affairs and eventually curbed the emergence of a righteous national governance. Meanwhile, corruption profoundly permeates across the country, fallaciously enabling clientelistic and nepotistic networks to access state resources, amidst an unprincipled advantage. In parallel, institutional reforms were hindered by political stalemate, rendering regressed economic conditions and social predicaments.
Back in early 2017, Lebanon demonstrated glimpses of hope by passing on a law corresponding to the Access to Information. Later on that year, the national budget was ratified for the first time since 2005. Subsequently, a year later in April 2018, France hosted CEDRE (Conférence Économique pour le Développement du Liban par les Réformes avec les Entreprises), an international conference to restore the debt-wrecked Lebanese economy. The international community represented by top tier governmental actors, donors and financial institutions, provided USD 11 Billion worth of grants and soft loans, in return for the implementation of a structural reform program. Watchfully, the conference stipulated a reform agenda encompassing a concrete time-table for the reforms.
Few weeks on, in May 2018, the nation finally held a parliamentary election for the first time since 2009, putting an end to an obstructed democratic life, which lasted for almost a decade. Throughout the year, the newly elected Parliament passed a law pertaining to fighting corruption and the promotion of transparency, specifically, the Law for the Protection of Whistleblowers. Analogously, by the end of 2018, the adoption of a law to establish the National Anti-Corruption Authority, took place.
In recent years, cabinet formation in the country had been pursuing a tricky and skewed route. The 2018 post elections cabinet, witnessed light just days ago (31stof January), concluding a political deadlock that endured for approximately nine months. The political impasse augmented the already existing anxieties regarding the economy and particularly the swelling public debt. An alarming parameter, which serves as a vivid verification of political economy shortcomings, can be notably showcased by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) via its DataMapper that previously projected Lebanon’s debt-to-GDP ratio to reach around an overwhelming 153% in 2019.
The long-anticipated cabinet, which was freshly formed, abolished the Ministry of State for Combating Corruption. According to the concerned former Minister, the elimination of the ministry was justified by the lack of structure and authority granted to him, and that moving forward, every minister should be in charge of defying corruption. Ironically, days ago, the Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 was issued by Transparency International, ranked Lebanon 138th out of 180 countries assessed, with a score of 28/100, which is equivalent to the past three years, arguably with no sign of drastic improvements in tackling corruption. On a regional level, Lebanon was positioned as the 14thmost corrupt country in the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region, scoring only marginally better than Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria – all of which are facing tumultuous warfare conditions.
The internationally involved stakeholders at CEDRE, are cautiously observing the situation, since the government’s incapability in fulfilling reform promises made at precedent donor conferences, poses fundamental questions concerning the officials’ competency and credibility in adopting reforms. In the meantime, according to top officials, among them Prime Minister Saad el Hariri, CEDRE reforms were mentioned in the Ministerial Statement and they will indisputably be the quintessence of his upcoming new four-year term in spearheading the cabinet.
The aforementioned measures might not be sufficient to impede the entrenched corruption, due to the country’s receptive political foundation of such vice. It is a long road of confrontation, which should have been pursued decades ago via endorsing stern reforms, led by unyielding judicial and supervisory bodies. Currently, laws tagged to anti-corruption and promotion of transparency, are yet to be employed by most public administrations and institutions, revealing an ambivalent political will.
Consequently, establishing a crisis management plan of interrelated reform measurements is indispensable. It would definitely serve as a guide in paving the way for combating corruption. Primarily, the plan should revolve around the act of abridging the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation and actual enforcement. Secondly, fortifying institutions and safeguarding their ability to operate without political intervention should be a priority. Thirdly, enhancing public engagement in the political arena via empowering citizens and civil society organizations to act as whistleblowers as a means to hold the government accountable is equally as important. Fourthly, endorsing an independent media in an environment free of intimidation will ensure a valuable reporting on corruption. Hopefully, these foundational stepswill serve as the building blocks to reinstate trust in the administration and its institutions.
The obstinate presence of corruption in parallel with a dysfunctional democracy in Lebanon, can be exceptionally considered correlated. Whether corruption stems out of intentional violation, mismanagement or simply lack of knowledge, the basic pillars of democracy need to be introduced and promoted as they are the main apparatuses that undoubtedly can offset this ailing phenomenon. Ultimately, they will restore the country’s democratization process hand-in-hand with the rule of law. Until then, anti-corruption efforts will remain a farfetched goal and creating a sustainable state-of-affairs model will linger on as a wishful thinking, rather than drafting a thriving national narrative based on integrity and meritocracy.
Joey Geadah is a Communications & International Affairs Advisor to various top tier think tanks, media agencies, NGOs, research entities & investment firms; leading & managing international & regional communication strategies, campaigns & content advisory projects across the MENA region, Italy & the US. In addition, acting as a regular contributor & columnist for renowned media outlets concerning Lebanon, MENA & Global relations. With a wide media outreach & exposure alongside an extensive portfolio of publications & campaigns, prominent foundations approach him to represent Lebanon as a Thought Leader & Keynote Speaker at international forums & workshops regarding: International Affairs, Media & Communications Topics, Civic Engagement & Outreach, Democracy, Youth Empowerment, Social Entrepreneurship, Educational Sector & Leadership Management. He is a holder of an MA in International Affairs from the Lebanese American University (LAU).
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