from The Daily Star (Lebanon)..
July 1, 2013
BEIRUT: Corruption in Lebanon has increased over the last year, a survey says, with 66 percent of Lebanese citizens confirming that the level of exploitation and bribery in the country is the highest it has ever been. “We are facing a systematic problem of corruption and bribery which has unfortunately even found its way to the education sector,” head of the Lebanese Transparency Association Nada Abdul-Sater said.
“Corruption is no longer shocking. It has become acceptable. We are at a stage where if we don’t intervene, our society will fall apart.”
The Lebanese Transparency Association relaunched its initiative, the Lebanon Anti-Bribery Network, Thursday in a bid to fight the growing corruption, which it says has reached enormous proportions and has taken its toll on the economic sector.
In cooperation with Research and Consulting House (REACH), a survey was conducted over a period of two months, from May 13 until June 14, targeting 800 business owners, managers and managing directors, and covering Lebanese territory in its entirety.
The survey showed that 73 percent of the respondents confirmed that corruption in the Lebanese public sector has become a very serious problem, a clear indicator that the population is extremely aware of the challenges the businesses are facing.
More than half of the survey respondents said that the more people they know in the public sector, the easier and quicker the paperwork.
A majority, 61 percent, confessed to having paid bribes in order to accelerate the issuing of formal documents, with 25 percent saying they resorted to blackmail as they felt it was the only way to obtain a required service.
More than half said they knew beforehand how much the bribe would cost and whether the amount will be paid in cash.
With the survey showing a clear perception by the Lebanese that the public administration is corrupt, the relaunching of the Lebanon Anti-Bribery Network, with an advisory council and executive committee, has a clear purpose: to work with both the public and private sector to fight corruption.
With the partnership of the Center for International Private Enterprise, which aims to strengthen democracy worldwide through market-oriented reforms, the purpose of the organization is to raise awareness among small businesses and develop a national strategic plan to fight corruption.
Anti-corruption consultant Badri Meouchi said corruption had become a significant problem for most companies in the country, and although a few in the public sector retain some form of integrity, it is still heavily widespread.
Another issue is that most citizens are too afraid to say they had to pay a bribe to speed up paperwork or to obtain a service for fear of punishment. With 65 percent of Lebanese admitting they paid bribes to facilitate and accelerate government-related procedures, Meouchi estimates the actual number will significantly rise if more people report on corruption.
“If the Lebanese do not stand up and say this is not acceptable, the situation will continue to worsen,” he added.
Secretary of the board Yahya Hakim said that civil society fighting corruption was not enough; a political solution is needed as well.
But with no cooperation from politicians or political parties, the task seems nearly impossible.
“These are people who have been elected to represent us, and they are not doing their job. Most of their actions are very limited,” Hakim said. “There is no funding from the government to fight corruption, not even from the Finance Ministry. Corruption is just not their priority.”
Studies done by REACH and the Lebanese Transparency Association showed that 71 percent of businessmen believe the government’s fight against corruption is ineffective, with the corruption of public officials ranking the highest in terms of negatively influencing their businesses. The military was found to be the least corrupt institution, with the least influence on business.
“Could poverty be related to corruption?” Hakim asked. “Our minimum wage cannot help a public servant live a decent life.”
Even though so many businesses can benefit from reduced corruption, exploitation is so widespread that it has become the norm. People will resort to corruption because the system allows them to, Meouchi said.
According to the survey, the most worrisome areas affected by corruption and bribery are adulterated foods and fraudulent medicines.
This indicates that businesspeople do not just regard corruption as a threat to their work, but to their lives as well, REACH CEO Joseph Khoury explains. Customs bribery and absence of accountability also ranked high, the judiciary and political leaders falling in second.
“We have a saying here at LTA,” Hakim added. “We are doomed to be optimistic.”