By Benedicte Aboul-Nasr, Project Officer, Transparency International – Defence & Security
On October 17, 2019, Lebanese citizens took to the streets in response to a government proposal to tax WhatsApp communications, in what would become known as the “Thawra”, or “Uprising” against widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions. A year after the beginning of the protests, and two months after the explosion in the Port of Beirut killed 191 people, injured over 6,500, and uprooted nearly 300,000, Lebanese citizens still have no clear answers as to why for six years, 2,700 tons of explosive chemicals were stored in hazardous conditions at the heart of Lebanon’s capital. Many suspect that a long history of negligence and corruption, the very factors that pushed people to the streets last year, are at least partly responsible for the devastation that took place on August 4, 2020.
The government response has been uneven and in the aftermath of the explosion authorities were slow to support immediate relief efforts. Instead, when Lebanese protesters took to the streets on August 8 to voice their anger towards a political class that many believe has benefited from Lebanese resources for decades, security forces responded harshly, deploying tear gas and live ammunition against protesters. Two days later, Hassan Diab’s government resigned, noting that corruption in Lebanon is “bigger than the state”. And, on August 13, eight days after the explosion, Parliament voted for a state of emergency, giving defence forces a broader mandate than the one they already had under the general mobilisation adopted to help contain COVID-19. Since then, Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib stepped down, within a month of his nomination, having failed to achieve the consensus necessary to form a government. At the time of writing, Lebanon remains in a political impasse, while former Prime Minister Hariri, who had stepped down two weeks into the protests in October 2019, is in the running to replace his successor.
Allegations of government corruption are not isolated incidents, and mismanagement has led to numerous crises and leadership vacuums over the years, which paved the way for the protest movement. Lebanon is now facing one of the most serious financial crises in its history which has crippled the economy. The state has defaulted on debt payments and banks are imposing de facto capital controls on withdrawals while Carnegie’s Middle East Center estimates that close to US$800 million were transferred out of the country within the first three weeks of the protests. The Lira lost 80% of its value over nine months; by July this year and Lebanon became the first country in the region to enter hyperinflation. Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, the World Bank had estimated that up to 45% of Lebanese citizens would be below the poverty line by the end of 2020. Despite undeniable evidence that the situation was untenable, prior to the explosion, discussions with the IMF had been stalled for months, and Alain Bifani, the finance ministry’s director-general, had resigned over state officials’ unwillingness to acknowledge the scale of the crisis and achieve consensus to identify solutions. The contract for a forensic audit of the Central Bank was only signed in August, and the audit itself did not begin until September.
The international community has offered loans and significant humanitarian aid to support victims and the reconstruction of Beirut. Tellingly, several governments have pledged that they would not disburse aid through the government, and are prioritising non-governmental organisations that have been at the forefront of assessment and reconstruction needs. Aid disbursed through the government, and renewed commitments to unlock funds promised by the CEDRE conference in 2018, are conditional on stringent anti-corruption reforms being adopted and must be accompanied by strict oversight. In this regard, it is crucial that Lebanese civil society and non-profit organisations are granted access to sufficient information to oversee the disbursement of aid and prevent funds from being lost.
As part of the broader powers and responsibilities granted to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) under the state of emergency proclaimed after the explosion, the military has been given the crucial role of coordinating the distribution of humanitarian aid and supporting other public bodies in their reconstruction efforts. In carrying out these roles, and with the additional powers from which they benefit, it is crucial that the LAF ensure the highest standards of integrity and transparency with the Lebanese public. The LAF has benefitted from a high level of trust in the past, and remains one of the most representative branches of government – the institution must ensure that it maintains trust and supports ways forward for the Lebanese, in particular as Lebanese citizens and organisations rebuild.
The coming months will be crucial for Beirut’s reconstruction and to help lift Lebanon out of the crisis it is experiencing. Anti-corruption measures and transparency, not only in the disbursement of aid but also in reform efforts, should be prioritised by the armed forces themselves, and more broadly by an incoming government committed to resolve the financial and political crises Lebanon currently faces as the country seeks international support. The Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), Transparency International’s national chapter in Lebanon, has been advocating alongside Transparency International – Defence & Security for increased transparency and accountability of the defence sector since 2018. In 2020, LTA continued to emphasise the urgent need for further transparency with constituents, and for the armed forces to implement access to information legislation to allow Lebanese citizens to understand how the body functions. As the LAF maintain responsibility in the aftermath of the explosion, both for aid disbursement and for maintaining security alongside security forces, clear communications and oversight of the defence sector are critical.
The explosion and its aftermath have brought issues that Lebanese citizens were familiar with – and which pushed many to the streets over the last year – to the forefront of Lebanon’s dealings with the international community. Only by tackling the root causes, continuing to push for reform, and beginning to rebuild institutions in which the public can trust, will Lebanon have a chance to become more stable and pave a way out of the crisis. Lebanese politicians have often shown willingness to commit to reforms when dealing with the international community in the past. However; reforms have then stalled due to a lack of consensus, for instance leading to delays in implementing access to information legislation, or in selecting members for the National Anti-Corruption Commission. As the international community aims to support Lebanese citizens and help rebuild Beirut, they should be wary of attempts to divert assistance, and of mismanagement in the disbursement of funds. Instead, any international and national initiatives should support Lebanese citizens’ calls to dismantle the root causes of corruption, for the political class to seriously address the financial crisis, and for concrete and measurable steps for reform and accountability.
Benedicte Aboul-Nasr is Transparency International – Defence & Security’s Project Officer working on Conflict and Insecurity, with a focus on the MENA region. She has a background in international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, and currently researches links between corruption and situations of crisis and conflict.
25 November, London – Security and stability across the Middle East and North Africa continues to be undermined by the risk of corruption in defence institutions, according to new research by Transparency International – Defence & Security.
11 of the 12 Middle East and North Africa states assessed in the 2020 Government Defence Integrity Index released today received E or F grades, indicating either a “very high” or “critical” risk of defence corruption. Only Tunisia performed better, scoring a D.
These findings come against a backdrop of insecurity and fragility in the region. Mass protests – driven by grievances including corruption and financial mismanagement by government – continue in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. Meanwhile protracted armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya show no sign of ending.
Steve Francis OBE, Director of Transparency International – Defence & Security, said:
The Middle East and North Africa remains one of the most conflict-riven regions in the world and this instability has a major impact on international security. While some states have made some improvements in their anti-corruption safeguards, the overall picture is one of stagnation and in some cases regression. Given the empirical link between corruption and insecurity, these results make worrying reading.
Military institutions across the region continue to conduct much of their business under a shroud of secrecy and away from even the most basic public scrutiny or legislative oversight. This lack of accountability fuels mistrust in security services and governments, which in turn feeds instability.
With the regional picture looking bleak, tools like our Government Defence Integrity Index are more important than ever. By highlighting areas where safeguards against corruption are weak or non-existent, campaigners on the ground and reform minded military leaders and politicians can use these results to push for real change. Taking action to improve transparency and close loopholes which allow corruption to thrive would improve public trust and bolster national security.
Defence sectors across the region continue to suffer from excessive secrecy, and a lack of oversight and transparency, the research found. Meanwhile, defence spending in the region continues to surge to record levels.
The countries with defence sectors at a ‘critical’ risk of corruption are Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as there is virtually no accountability or transparency of defence and security institutions. Many of these countries are either major arms importers or benefit from significant international military aid.
In Lebanon, a lack of clear independent auditing mechanisms and gaps between anti-corruption laws adopted in the last two years and their implementation contributed to the country’s “very high” risk status, despite the Lebanese Armed Forces demonstrating high levels of integrity and a willingness to remain neutral and avoid using excessive against protesters.
Tunisia was the only country in the region to rank higher, with new whistleblower protections, improved oversight and public commitments to promoting integrity in the armed forces contributing to its score. But the continued use of counter-terrorism justifications combined with an ingrained culture of secrecy within the defence sector prevented Tunisia from scoring higher.
|Lebanon||Very high risk|
Notes to editors:
The full, country-specific Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) results for the Middle East and North Africa will be available here
The GDI assesses the existence, effectiveness and enforcement of institutional and informal controls to manage the risk of corruption in defence and security institutions.
Our team of experts draws together evidence from a wide variety of sources and interviewees across 77 indicators to provide a detailed assessment of the integrity of national defence institutions, and awards a score for each country from A to F.
The GDI was previously known as the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI). The Index underwent a major update for the 2020 version, including changes to the methodology and scoring underpinning the project. This means overall country scores from this 2020 version cannot be accurately compared with country scores from previous iterations of the Index.
Subsequent GDI results will be released in 2020, covering Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, G-20 countries, the Asia Pacific region, East and Southern Africa, and NATO+.
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Lebanon has avoided the spill over from the conflict in Syria, but currently faces rising regional tensions which some fear could lead to conflict in Lebanon. At the same time, military expenditure has risen to 5% of the country’s share of GDP, and close to 14% of government spending; one of the highest shares of the government’s spending. While the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) benefit from support which generally transcends sectarian lines, the institution faces high risks of corruption due to limited parliamentary oversight and access to information, amplified by the lack of transparency to citizens and accountability beyond the armed forces. Strengthening the integrity of Lebanese defence institutions is crucial to guaranteeing an armed forces that can effectively respond to threats and is accountable to the Lebanese people.
Lebanon’s security situation remains fragile, and corruption a systemic weakness. The LAF have been keen to engage, and exhibit some regional best practices. Transparency International strives to capitalise on these best practices and the ongoing movement towards reform to encourage strengthening integrity within the armed forces.
We have therefore been working in partnership with the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), Transparency International’s chapter in Lebanon, since 2018. The primary aim of our Lebanon country programme is to promote transparency and the enhancement of integrity mechanisms within the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Our approach is to collaborate, pursue dialogue, and engage with the LAF, as the Lebanese government seeks to demonstrate its broader commitment to reform and to countering corruption.
We are refining plans to achieve policy and institutional changes following the launch of the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI), including strengthening anti-corruption reforms and promoting transparency and accountability within the LAF. Alongside this, we will collaborate to build the capacity of civil society to engage with the government, military and international community on defence corruption issues. We believe that raising stakeholder capacity is crucial to tangible progress within Lebanese defence institutions and, in turn, to strengthen the government’s ability to respond to its own national security threats.