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Getting Creative About Saying “No!” to Corruption in Lebanon

Posted on the 21 October 2014 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal
Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

CIPE partner the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) recently wrapped up a banner month in its fight against corruption in Lebanon. CIPE’s partnership with LTA dates back over ten years, and since 2012 CIPE has been supporting LTA through a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to strengthen the rule of law in Lebanon. Our approach has been not only to raise public awareness, but also to empower citizens to exercise their rights. This effort has been consolidated primarily through the Lebanese Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (LALAC) and the Lebanese Anti-Bribery Network (LABN), both of which are housed and managed by LTA.

LALAC operates centers in Beirut, Bekaa, and Nabatieh, which are staffed by attorneys and legal assistants who field complaints of corruption from citizens across Lebanon. Through LALAC, citizens can report corruption by calling the LALAC hotline, writing a letter or e-mail, or visiting one of three centers in person.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

Since CIPE’s direct support for LALAC began approximately one year ago, LALAC has achieved an unprecedented level of activity. A total of 453 complaints have been made during that time, 277 of which directly relate to corruption. In 224 cases, LALAC has provided citizens (“clients”) with legal advice on the process of vindicating their rights (short of providing representation in court) and sought resolution with cognizant public institutions.

If LALAC were a law firm, it would be doing a brisk business. But LALAC doesn’t bill its clients. It exists to empower the victims of corruption as champions for reform and to hold public officials accountable. LALAC has already worked directly with more than 15 public institutions to achieve resolution of individual cases and achieved some notable successes. Moreover, LALAC is negotiated memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with numerous public sector entities to cooperate in resolving complaints of corruption – remarkable progress in a country where openly talking about corruption was taboo not long ago.

In parallel to its legal case load, LALAC is also exercising a leadership role in advocating for the passage of a whistleblower protection law (currently pending before parliament) that will prohibit retribution against those who report instances of corruption. Fear of retribution is unfortunately still a powerful deterrent to reporting corruption. Through a public petition and extensive meetings with members of parliament, the media, and the private sector, LALAC is mobilizing support for this important legal reform.

At the LABN Conference on September 29 in Beirut, LTA recognized exceptional corporate citizens in the fight against corruption.

At the LABN Conference on September 29 in Beirut, LTA recognized exceptional corporate citizens in the fight against corruption.

Meanwhile, LABN serves as a vehicle for collective action to combat corruption, especially its root causes and manifestation as bribery. As a network, which CIPE helped LTA to establish originally in 2008, LABN brings together diverse private sector stakeholders, along with public sector and civil society counterparts, under one banner to identify and advance needed reforms. Since the start of our current MEPI-funded program, LTA-LABN has identified the most critical vulnerabilities to bribery through a national-level survey of 800 business managers and directors and developed a reform agenda through consultations with Network membership and extensive stakeholder outreach.

The results are captured in a new publication called “Administrative Corruption in Lebanon: Key Features and Ways Ahead – LABN Agenda for Reform.” The agenda was launched at a high-profile conference on September 29 in Beirut, which included the participation of approximately 90 LABN members. I was honored to represent CIPE at the event and provide some remarks about the importance of collective action in combating corruption based on CIPE’s experiences around the world.

LTA-LABN also released a second new guidebook at the conference called “Access to Information: Benefits to the Private Sector,” which is a tool to mobilize the business community to push for final passage of an access to information law currently pending before parliament (and which LTA was instrumental in drafting as a leading member of the National Network for the Right of Access to Information).

The conference also served as an opportunity for LTA to recognize a few examples of exceptional corporate citizenship in combating bribery that were encountered among LABN’s membership during this project.

A.N. Boukather is a family-owned enterprise and the parent company of the Mazda automotive brand in Lebanon. Its CEO described the role of corporate governance, a sound whistleblower policy, and employee ethics training in the company’s successful efforts to prevent corruption.

Forelogix is a management consulting firm, and its Chairman explained the robust measures the company had put in place to prevent corruption, including an internal corporate governance code and policies, whistleblower requirements, independent board members, and fostering a culture of transparency.

L’Auberge Beity is a small tourism and hospitality company in Kfardebian, and its General Manager delivered inspirational remarks in person that relayed the company’s policy of refusing to pay bribes to customs and immigration officials when transporting international tourists. As a result of her company’s bravery in the face of great risks, over time the environment for tour operators has improved and bribery is no longer a common practice.

Getting Creative about Saying “No!” to Corruption in Lebanon

Mime, rap music, stand-up comedy, and graffiti art with an anti-corruption message were all part of the experience at LTA-LABN’s public rally held on September 12 at the Beirut Souks.

The LABN conference was preceded by a public rally held on September 12 in the Beirut Souks. Perhaps one of the most creative events ever undertaken by CIPE and its partners, and certainly unprecedented in Lebanon, the rally was a platform for LTA-LABN to broadcast its message through the arts. A graffiti artist painted a mural while mimes, a comedian, rappers, and a street theater troupe performed anti-corruption themed routines over the course of the evening. Hundreds of citizens, mostly young adults, streamed through the event and most lingered for extended periods. LTA-LABN literature was distributed to all who came, but it was the live performances that captured peoples’ attention and enthusiasm and delivered the message of “No Corruption” most vividly.

The video above captures an afternoon walking the streets of Beirut to take the pulse of the people regarding the issue of corruption, and the Lebanese didn’t disappoint with their trademark sense of humor. It also features highlights from the LABN rally, and I hope it motivates you as much as it does me to approach our work combating corruption with the positive attitude and creativity that it demands.

To read some of the extensive media coverage of these events, check out the links below:

“Lebanese Transparency Association – No Corruption Concludes the Project to Strengthen the Rule of Law through Civic Education” – National News Agency; Lebanon Files; BibNews; Sahafaty.net; Mo5tar; News; Al Mustaqbal; Al Balad

“Three Companies Recognized by LTA for their Fight Against Corruption” – L’Orient le Jour

“Rap and Graffiti and Theater – A Rejection of Bribes and Corruption” – Annahar

“Activity to Combat Bribery in the Markets – Rap and Theater and Graffiti Rejection of Corruption” – Annahar

“In the Beirut Souks, Transparency through the Arts to Say “No” to Corruption” – L’Orient Le Jour

“LTA – No Corruption Organized Social Activity in the Markets of Beirut for Anti-Bribery” – Lebanon Files; National News Agency; AlKalima Online; Charles Ayoub; NewHub; BibNews; Sahafaty.net; News Café

Stephen Rosenlund is a Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa at CIPE.

CIPE’s program with LTA is funded by a grant from the United States Department of State, Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

MEPI is a unique program designed to engage directly with and invest in the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). MEPI works to create vibrant partnerships with citizens to foster the development of pluralistic, participatory, and prosperous societies throughout the MENA region. To do this, MEPI partners with local, regional and international non-governmental organizations, the private sector, academic institutions, and governments. More information about MEPI can be found at: www.mepi.state.gov.


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