Given Lebanon’s socio-economic crisis, concrete anti-corruption measures must be prioritized, implemented and monitored by the Lebanese government, civil society and the international community, as these are core components of any recovery plan for the country.
As Lebanon continues to endure a multifaceted collapse, with UN data indicating that more than half of the population had fallen below the poverty line by May 2020, and with COVID-19 infection rates rising sharply in January 2021 (and remaining high for several months thereafter), confronting corruption has become a matter of survival for the Republic of Lebanon. Venal corruption and deliberate mismanagement of the public sector since the end of the civil war have brought about the current sorry state of affairs. The international community, which had long bailed out Lebanon’s corrupt political class, has made it clear in recent years that no funds will be provided to the country if serious reforms and anti-corruption initiatives are not implemented. Thus, Lebanon is truly at a crossroads: it must choose to pursue systemic reforms and the full implementation of anti-corruption laws, or must accept the country’s collapse.
This research paper has argued that despite the stark novelty that the recently passed anti-corruption laws and the National Anti-Corruption Strategy constitute in Lebanon’s political landscape, these are likely to remain poorly implemented – due not only to weak state infrastructure and the lack of an independent judiciary, but also to the systemic nature of corruption in Lebanon and the fact that the same political class that has led the country to the current collapse is ostensibly in charge of implementing these laws and the overarching anti-corruption strategy.
Nonetheless, this paper proposes several recommendations directly and indirectly linked to the fight against corruption, addressing them to different stakeholders, with the hope that they could lead to a reduction in corruption in Lebanon and to the proper implementation of the anti-corruption laws and strategy detailed above.
Recommendations to the Lebanese government
- Demonstrate commitment to the National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Any government that is formed must reaffirm its commitment to the National Anti-Corruption Strategy formally adopted by the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab in May 2020. Concrete steps towards the strategy’s implementation must be made. This particularly entails the proper implementation of the recently passed anti-corruption laws as well as enacting laws to ensure the independence of the judicial branch.
- Prioritize the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission must be prioritized, because it plays an integral role in ensuring the implementation of anti-corruption laws and holding corrupt public officials accountable. Any forthcoming government must pressure the relevant entities to submit the names of potential appointees to the commission and must then proceed without delay in the formation of the commission. The government should then ensure to provide it with sufficient funding and resources to fulfil its role.
- Build on existing open data platforms. One of the actions stipulated in the Digital Transformation Strategy unveiled by OMSAR in late 2018 was the establishment of a governmental open data platform, through which public bodies would publish all types of data, and an easy-to-use prototype of this platform was created, targeted at government entities and citizens alike. In 2020, the Central Inspection Board developed an official governmental open data platform in partnership with the private sector and international organizations. This platform, known as IMPACT (Inter-Ministerial and Municipal Platform for Assessment Coordination and Tracking), presents a promising opportunity, as it allows public bodies to share and publish data on a wide array of issues, facilitating citizens’ access to information, and promoting inter-governmental collaboration. The government must build on this platform, so that eventually all governmental institutions use it to publish all sorts of qualitative and quantitative data they hold.
- Guarantee freedom of expression and assembly. In light of the increasing constraints that have been imposed by Lebanon’s political elites on civil liberties and freedom of speech, the Lebanese government, particularly the ministries of interior and defence, must take the appropriate measures to ensure that freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed and protected.
Recommendations to the international community
- Transparent funding processes. Since the end of the civil war, Lebanon has been the recipient of billions of dollars in foreign grants and loans, targeting several sectors. However, much of the aid provided by donor agencies, be it to the Lebanese government or to non-governmental partners, has been poorly coordinated and provided in a manner that reinforces neither transparency nor accountability. Such opacity in aid distribution processes is problematic, as it leads to duplication of efforts and facilitates corruption. Donor agencies, foreign governments and international financial institutions providing grants, loans or any type of financial or in-kind assistance to Lebanon must uphold the highest standards of transparency by making all their data easily accessible and sharing it with other stakeholders, such as media outlets, CSOs and fellow donors. This is particularly crucial at a time when, following the August 2020 blast at the Port of Beirut, much financial and in-kind aid has flooded into Lebanon, with some instances of corruption having already been detected.
- Support for monitoring and oversight agencies. Lebanon’s monitoring and oversight agencies have long been underfunded, understaffed and lacking in terms of human capacities. Donors should establish partnerships with these agencies and jointly devise programmes to strengthen their capacities, in line with the objectives of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and all the while maintaining the highest standards of transparency when providing such assistance, as stated in the previous recommendation.
- Support for independent media outlets and watchdog groups. Over the last few years, numerous internet-based alternative media outlets and watchdog groups have emerged in Lebanon, providing excellent coverage of political and socio-economic developments in the country. Many of these outlets have significantly increased their output following the uprisings of October 2019. Donors and international organizations should continue supporting these outlets in their efforts to provide critical coverage of political developments in the country and to uncover corruption.
Recommendations to civil society
- A civil society-led anti-corruption front. Lebanon’s civil society has long played an active role in the fight against corruption, and many of the anti-corruption laws this research paper has detailed would not have existed without the active participation and pressure exerted by CSOs. This has been particularly notable following the uprising of October 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop CSOs from being active, as many switched their efforts online and held countless webinars on anti-corruption related issues. France’s international technical cooperation agency, Expertise France, has recently partnered with local CSOs and academic institutions to fund and support the Anti-Corruption and Transparency (ACT) project. In accordance with one of ACT’s objectives, the Dod El Fasad (Against Corruption) campaign was launched in early December 2020. The disparate Lebanese CSOs and activists who are involved in promoting good governance and anti-corruption efforts should coalesce around ACT and the Against Corruption campaign, and form a concomitant front to unify their efforts and to systematically monitor and advocate for the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and the anti-corruption related laws.
Members of this front should each focus on their area of expertise (for example, the implementation of the Law on the Right to Access Information; public procurement reforms; good governance at the local level; transparency in the petroleum sector; governmental efforts reducing free speech, and so on). The anti-corruption front should release periodic reports to inform public opinion and the international community about governmental anti-corruption work progress (or the lack thereof). It is crucial that the different members of this front share experiences and best practices with one another, and it is important to ensure that it has a very prominent and active presence on all social media platforms. Establishing such a coalition is no mean feat. It requires dedication, commitment, sacrifices, open channels of communication and collaboration, as well as setting personal differences aside, all of which is made more difficult in the context of an unprecedented socio-economic collapse. While it is worth noting that the National Anti-Corruption Strategy calls for the establishment of a government-supported national network of activists, CSOs and trade unions, Lebanon’s civil society should not have to wait for the government’s encouragement to establish such a front.
The anti-corruption front should release periodic reports to inform public opinion and the international community about governmental anti-corruption work progress (or the lack thereof).
- Promote the Law on the Right to Access Information. The Law on the Right to Access Information is a key tool for uncovering corruption. Much effort has already been dedicated to promoting the usage of the law by journalists and civil society. These efforts must continue and expand – perhaps by the civil society-led anti-corruption front proposed above – to ensure that more journalists, researchers, academics and everyday citizens are aware of the law’s existence and have the knowledge and skills to put it to proper use. Non-compliant public bodies must be exposed, while pressure must be exerted on public bodies to adopt systematic measures to automatically publish information and documents, rather than wait to receive ATI requests.
- Protect free speech. Lebanon’s civil society should continue its efforts towards defending freedom of expression and documenting abuses by the state. In early July 2020, an alliance to defend free speech was launched, composed of several leading CSOs alongside the Alternative Press Syndicate. In the face of increasing clampdowns on civil liberties in Lebanon, it is crucial that this alliance perseveres.