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Rampant corruption claims as Lebanon slips down graft ratings

18 Nov

Watchdog suggests growing public awareness has shifted scores
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s corruption ranking for 2009 has slipped 28 points from last year to 130th place, graft monitoring organization Transparency International (TI) said Tuesday. The Berlin-based organization’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index also found Lebanon’s graft rating had fallen half a point to 2.5 out of 10 on a scale where 0 indicated “highly corrupt” and 10 “highly clean.”

The index ranks 180 countries on perceived levels of public sector corruption and corruption among politicians, using assessments and surveys collected by other organizations.

Although 180 countries were also assessed last year, TI’s senior coordinator for measuring corruption Juanita Riano told The Daily Star the index was not meant as “a measurement over time, but rather a snapshot of the current situation” of global corruption.

“At a time when massive stimulus packages, fast-track disbursements of public funds and attempts to secure peace are being implemented around the world, it is essential to identify where corruption blocks good governance and accountability, in order to break its corrosive cycle” said Huguette Labelle, TI Chair.

In the organization’s 2008 index, Lebanon ranked 102nd, 11th out of 20 countries in the Arab world and scored three out of 10. The low scores were thought to be because of the country’s political deadlock, which held back key reforms.

TI said corruption thrived when essential government institutions were weak or non-existent, resulting in insecurity and impunity.

“Corruption also makes normal a seeping loss of trust in the very institutions and nascent governments charged with ensuring survival and stability.”

According to the organization Global Integrity – which tracks international governance and corruption – political meddling and nepotism in Lebanon are “rampant in media, civil service and law enforcement agencies.”

Fighting corruption “requires strong oversight by parliaments, a well-performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society,” Labelle said.

Lebanon’s fall in rank is probably not indicative of increased corruption but of growing public awareness, said Gaelle Kibranian, program director at TI’s Lebanon chapter, the Lebanese Transparency Association.

“What we are linking it to is perceptions, especially given the fact that we had parliamentary elections” in June this year, which despite government regulation, were marked by stories of vote-buying and dubious campaign financing.

“I think it is very timely to have [the corruption index published] just before the ministerial statement, Kibranian said, hoping it would push officials to address corruption in the government’s guiding document.

New Zealand came first in this year’s corruption index, ranking in at 9.4, followed by Denmark at 9.3, and Singapore and Sweden at 9.2. Wallowing at the bottom of the index for a second consecutive year is Somalia, with a score of 1.1.

The index comes just 10 days after the Lebanese Transparency Association published a report indicating that corruption in the country was pervasive at all levels of society and state, taking such forms as embezzlement, vote-buying, patronage, bribery, and clientelism.