Restoring Lebanon: A case for the international community, a challenge for regional security

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The Lebanese seem determined to make sacred union around the fight against corruption. 

The protests in Beirut at the end of 2019 that led to the fall of Saad Hariri highlighted the financial problems of Lebanon, formerly the Middle East Switzerland.

Lebanon’s social and financial stability concerns us all — because Lebanon is an essential part of the stability of the Middle East.

Corruption on all levels, the flight of capital, ill-gotten property, the list goes on of the misappropriations that for years have plagued this country, which is also a favourite theatre of regional conflicts. 

On many occasions, at international conferences such as CEDRE, or as part of an EU neighborhood policy, the international community has looked at the situation in Lebanon to bail it out. However, the funds thus collected have not been used for the populations, nor for the infrastructures: Lebanon struggles to have electricity 24 hours a day, every day of the week, the roads are in a dramatic state, the habitat decays. Mobile phone plans are some of the most expensive in the region. 

All these reasons lead today to reflect on the strong, voluntary action of the international community to come to the aid of Lebanon and its new Prime Minister Hassan Diab. There is no question here of reprogramming any donor conference, it is a question of setting up concerted actions with the Lebanese authorities to recover the sums diverted and finally put an end to widespread and endemic corruption that has lasted too long.

The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions in 2011, but especially the United Nations Anti-bribery Convention signed in 2003 demonstrate the commitment of the international community on this issue.

If the UN convention was ratified by Lebanon in 2009, the NGO Transparency International ranks the country 137th out of 180 countries studied, with an alarming score of 28/100. Citizens’ views and experiences of corruption in the Middle East and North Africa Global Corruption Barometer for 2019 by the latter NGO shows that Lebanese people are outraged by this situation: 68 percent of them believe that corruption increased in 2019, 87 percent believe that the government fails to fight corruption and 89 percent believe that the same corrupt government. 

In April 2018, the Economic Conference for Development, through reforms and with business (CEDRE) was held in Paris to stabilize Lebanon’s financial situation by reviving the economy, growth and employment. In the joint declaration of the forty-one countries represented, Article 11 states that Participants felt that concessional financing and private investment are the most effective instruments for investing in infrastructure and creating jobs, based on a coherent fiscal and fiscal consolidation program.” Financial support was provided through loans of $10.2 billion and grants of $860 million. 

However, nothing is known about the follow-up to these decisions. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri had planned to set up a committee to monitor funding, but it seems that he did not get there before the social upheavals that led to his departure. 

These funds showed a combination of financial ($4 billion from the World Bank, $800 million from the European Investment Bank, $1.1 billion from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), from the Arab world ($700 million from Kuwait, $500 million from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development) and Western powers (EUR 550 million from France, including 150 million in grants, 300 million from the Netherlands and 150 million from the European Union).

The sums mentioned are astronomical, and the Prime Minister-designate is aware of this issue. The Lebanese provisions exist; it is now necessary to apply the law around an anti-corruption task force with the cooperation of international institutions and experts. 

I am not an expert on Lebanese law, but laws and regulations do exist and have recently been reinforced. 

Among the new laws adopted by the Lebanese Parliament, the Law on the Fight against Corruption in the Public Sector is undoubtedly a laudable initiative and a first step towards transparency and the consolidation of public spending. This is the result of hard work, led by the group of parliamentarians against corruption chaired by former MP Ghassan Moukheiber, with contributions from civil society representatives and several experts.

The new text on corruption, which tries to define this concept by defining the crimes to be placed under this label and the means to combat them, entrusts the fight to an independent specialized commission of six members, including two judges, one jurist and three experts disconnected from political circles. This commission is supported by an efficient administration that will work on the implementation of its decisions and directives, without replacing the control bodies already existing

It is urgent that civil society, Lebanese experts and parliamentarians are putting these structures in order. It would also be important for them to form associations to defend the Lebanese taxpayer in court more effectively.

Since group action does not exist in Lebanese law, it is necessary to resort to the actions of citizen advocacy associations. Indeed, it is possible that, at the request of a taxpayer or a European elected official, the Parliament will address the question of the follow-up of funding granted to Lebanon.

The case of a waste treatment plant in Tripoli is often cited. No one to date can say definitively whether or not public funds have been misappropriated, but it is obvious that there has been a misuse of European funds in a poorly parameterized project, funds having been paid without any follow-up being planned. 

The time is not for financial or banking opacity.

It would probably be interesting for Lebanon to get closer to the Council of Europe to benefit from its independent and recognized expertise on corruption, but also on the institutions with the Venice Commission, a valuable institution recognized by all.

It would also be interesting to consult the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Such a coordinated will and practice would be an example for many other countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Lebanon’s stability concerns us all because it is an essential part of the stability of the Middle East — which is why the international community must place itself at the disposal of the new Prime Minister and ensure at the first request the implementation of its policy for recovery of stolen and misappropriated assets.

Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing Orne, Normandy, since 2007; she led a commission investigating jihadist networks in Europe and wrote a report for NATO on the financing of terrorism. Follow her on Twitter @senateur61.

Tags financial reform Lebanese people Lebanon Political corruption Protests stability in the Middle East

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