Following the end of the civil war, the Lebanese state was turned into a vehicle for self-enrichment by the political class, while the state’s oversight bodies were weakened and left underfunded.
Transparency International’s definition of corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’ addresses behaviours in both the public and the private sectors, encompassing ‘politicians misusing public money or granting public jobs or contracts to their sponsors, friends and families’, and bureaucrats and inspectors in the public sector ‘demanding or taking money or favours in exchange for services’, as well as private firms ‘bribing officials to get lucrative deals’.
The literature on corruption often distinguishes between ‘petty’ corruption (such as small bribes paid by citizens to low-level officials to streamline bureaucratic procedures) and ‘grand’ corruption (such as the abuse by senior public officials of their office and powers to use large amounts of public funds for their self-enrichment or for the enrichment of their cronies in an unlawful manner). In countries with high levels of both petty and grand corruption, public institutions become vehicles for self-enrichment, as a corrupt coterie of political elites and their allies in the private sector embezzle public funds – or funds, provided by aid agencies, that are destined for socio-economic development. In 2004, in his foreword to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan aptly described corruption as ‘an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies’ and which ‘undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish’. The UNCAC is a legally binding multilateral treaty that cements the international community’s ostensible wishes to stamp out corruption, and provides a roadmap for countries to prevent and combat corruption more effectively. Originally drafted in late 2003, the UNCAC had been signed and ratified by 187 countries by February 2020.
The ‘power-sharing’ system has resulted in a symbiosis of the sectarian political elites and their private sector allies in a way that has rendered the state a parasitic vehicle for self-enrichment and strengthened various sectarian clientelistic networks.
In Lebanon, widespread instances of both petty and grand forms of corruption have continued to exist at all levels of the state, despite the fact that Lebanon ratified the UNCAC in 2009. Lebanon’s sectarian political system is, by its nature, conducive to widespread corruption. The ‘power-sharing’ system that is in place is ostensibly meant to ensure that each of Lebanon’s sectarian communities is properly represented in the public sector. However, in practice and in the long term, this system has resulted in a symbiosis of the sectarian political elites and their private sector allies in a way that has rendered the state a parasitic vehicle for self-enrichment and strengthened various sectarian clientelistic networks. A 2018 article by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies asserted that parliament spends little time proposing, debating, revising and passing laws, while lawmakers barely monitor the executive branch’s performance and almost never hold it to account. Meetings of parliamentary committees are held behind closed doors, and minutes are not made available to the public. According to the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Lebanon’s different security organizations have frequently served to protect elite interests. The judicial branch, on the other hand, was designed to be subservient to the executive and legislative branches, thus debilitating judges’ ability to hold corrupt officials to account. The government’s oversight and disciplinary authorities are severely underfunded and understaffed – or, as is often the case, are staffed at the behest of the political elites – and hence are often judged to be incapable of properly carrying out their work. Table 1, which summarizes data on penalties (such as dismissals, suspensions or demotions) imposed between 2012 and 2015 on public officials of different ranks, suggests that such monitoring agencies focus their disciplinary efforts on public officials in the lowest ranks (i.e. in the third to fifth ranks, which include public school teachers, municipal police, secretaries and so on) while largely passing over high-level public officials in the first two ranks.