Tag Archives: corruption

US rights report: corruption still plagues Lebanon

14 Mar

Penalties present, but seldomly enforced
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 13, 2010

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government is riddled with corruption and while human-rights abuses are not as flagrant as elsewhere in the Arab world, they continue largely unabated, according to the US State Department.

The Lebanon section of the 2009 report on human-rights practices, which was released late Thursday, also noted substandard detention facilities, arbitrary detention, lack of rights for women, refugees and other minorities, privacy infringements and restrictions on freedoms of speech and press as major issues hindering the enjoyment of human rights in the country.

“The government provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the penalties were seldom enforced, and government corruption was a serious problem,” the report said, noting a lack of transparency and public access to government documents or information about the financial assets of public officials. It reiterated reports by local organizations Transparency Lebanon and the Lebanese Transparency Association, which noted systematic clientelism, judicial failures, electoral fraud, and bribery among politicians.

The Lebanese government was unable to exercise total control over its affairs because of impunity and armed presence of Hizbullah, the report said. “It remained difficult to distinguish politically motivated crimes … from simply criminal acts or disputes, as the government did not exercise control over all its territory and investigations of suspicious killings rarely led to prosecutions,” the report added.

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee made little progress over the course of the year, mainly because of the absence of a government for five months. “At year’s end there was no evidence that the committee had begun implementing the existing national action plan calling for legal changes to guide ministries on protecting specific human rights.”

The Lebanese people suffered “limitations” on their right to change their government peacefully, the report said, noting a continuation of politically motivated killings and disappearance of a Lebanese citizen, Joseph Sader, which may also have been politically driven.

The whereabouts of Sader, an MEA official, have remained unknown for over a year.

Conditions in prison and detention centers remained below minimum international standards, with facilities packed to almost twice their capacity. The report said three cases of prisoner-on-prisoner rape occurred in Roumieh prison during the year and quoted an unidentified non-governmental organization as saying 27 prisoners had died “primarily due to authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care.” Arbitrary imprisonment and illegal detention of refugees was also pervasive, with charges against officials responsible for prolonged arrest rarely filed.

 

There was evidence that government officials tortured detainees and forced them to sign forged confessions. The Lebanese government continued to deny the use of torture, though authorities did acknowledge “violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations … where suspects were interrogated without an attorney.” The report added that while security agencies and the Lebanese police force are subject to laws prohibiting bribery and extortion, enforcement of those laws were weak.

Flouting national laws, Lebanese authorities “frequently interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government,” the report said, noting phone tapping and other monitoring by the security services.

Freedom of speech and of the press also came under fire, with the report noting political violence and intimidations lead journalists to practice self-censorship. Most media outlets have political affiliations, sometimes hindering their “ability to operate freely in areas dominated by other political groups and affected the objectivity of their reporting.” A number of journalists also received threats against them and their families for their work, and officials instigated libel and other lawsuits against journalists in an effort to suppress criticism.

Lebanon continued to discriminate against women in a number of issues including personal status and citizenship, and was a transit point and destination for trafficked persons. “The government provided legal assistance to domestic violence victims who could not afford it, but in most cases police ignored complaints submitted by battered or abused women.”

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has published country reports on human rights practices in 194 countries and territories for the last 34 years. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the annual reports provide a fact-base for American diplomatic, economic and strategic policy-making. “These reports are an essential tool … to craft effective human-rights policy, we need good assessments of the situation on the ground in the places we want to make a difference,” she said in the report’s preface.

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.

Lebanon losing battle to keep the lights on

8 Dec

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEIRUT, Dec 8 (Reuters) – A candle flickering in her darkened home, Fouada Hawi rails against the daily 10-hour power cuts that Lebanon’s ailing electricity utility inflicts on her.

 “It’s unbearable,” said the headscarved mother. “No one has money to buy fuel for generators, so you have to live by candle light. You have to put up with everything in this country, you work and you are patient, but nothing changes.”

Many developing countries have power problems, but Lebanon’s go beyond mere technical issues, a World Bank report issued this year suggests, pointing to corruption and vested interests.

It says the electricity sector’s woes are typical of countries where “there are multiple beneficiaries of the dysfunctional status quo … ranging from corruption in payments flows or procurement, to buying of voters through free electricity, to profiteering from energy shortages”.

Hawi, 33, lives with her husband and child in Ouzai, just south of Beirut — where luckier residents have still had to endure three hours without power a day for the last two years.

Anger over the blackouts turned violent in January when army troops shot dead eight protesters in the mainly Shi’ite southern suburbs, fuelling wider political turmoil.

Tensions have calmed since rival factions reached a deal on a national unity government in May, but the chronic malaise gripping the electricity sector is not so readily cured.

Nor can the drain on the public purse be easily plugged. Subsidies cost the equivalent of 4 percent of Lebanon’s Gross Domestic Product last year, the World Bank estimates.

Lebanon built two gas-fired power plants in 1996, but they still lack a gas supply and run on expensive diesel instead. Older turbines use the costliest grade of fuel oil.

State-owned Electricity du Liban (EdL) can meet only two-thirds of peak demand. More than a third of the power it does generate gets lost in distribution or is not paid for.

How to overhaul a utility whose 2,000 staff have an average age of 58, whose tariffs were fixed in 1996 when oil cost $21 a barrel, and whose last audited accounts were issued in 2004?

 TOO MANY COOKS?

Lebanon’s fiendishly intricate sectarian power-sharing system makes consensus on reform elusive, and dozens of reports proposing solutions for the problems are gathering dust.

The latest energy minister to try his hand acknowledges the scale of the task.

“Today we are able to generate about 1,500 megawatts and our peak requirement is estimated at 2,200, so we have a deficit of around 700,” Alain Tabourian told Reuters. “That’s why we see a lot of power cuts, especially in summer.”

Back-up generators used by shops, homes and factories hammer in the streets of Beirut during outages — which cost business around $400 million last year, according to the World Bank.

Tangled overhead cables reveal illicit links to unmetered supplies. Public sector consumers like ministries, the army, police and hospitals are all supposed to get billed. Few pay.

Subsidising EdL cost the government $1.2 billion in the first 10 months of 2008, or more than 15 percent of its spending and a fifth of its revenue, Finance Ministry figures show.

The bill for imported fuel surged mainly because world oil prices spiked to nearly $150 a barrel in July before collapsing.

But Lebanon, with a $44.5 billion public debt — among the world’s biggest at 170 percent of GDP — can ill afford such costs, let alone the investments to expand capacity.

Existing power stations are obsolete, poorly maintained or unsuited to the fuel available, Tabourian said.

Initially Syria was to supply natural gas for the two modern combined-cycle gas turbine units, but now has a shortfall itself, so Lebanon turned to Egypt. After successive delays, the Egyptians are promising the first deliveries in January.

“Unfortunately they cut the amount in half compared to what we originally agreed,” Tabourian said. “That means only one of the two turbines in one plant will be able to run on gas.”

 “REAL WORD IS THEFT”

Tabourian put technical losses in the distribution system at about 15 percent, or double those typical of a well-run network.

“Non-technical losses — the real word is theft — have gone up to around 22 percent,” he said, blaming Lebanon’s political upheavals for the reversal of a trend which had curbed these to 17 percent from a crippling 40 percent in 2000-2002.

The ministry is considering how to restructure the outdated electricity tariff, without too much pain for poorer consumers — although even they might pay up if EdL’s service improved.

“Let them ration or raise the bills a bit, but give us electricity,” pleaded Hawi at her home in Ouzai. “People can’t live a normal life. School-kids can’t study by candle light.”

Albert Khoury, deputy general manager of a private power distribution concession in Aley, east of Beirut, blamed EdL’s management. “Every area in Lebanon would pay if we had clean power and reliable billing and collection.”

 Computerisation at EdL is incomplete. Anyone trying to do business at its Beirut headquarters must navigate a maze of desks where clerks shuffle records in dusty ledgers and files.

 EdL’s chairman, Kamal Hayek, declined to be interviewed.

Tabourian said the widely discussed option of privatising EdL was out of reach for now: “First it needs to be corporatised so it can operate on commercial rules, so it can hire and fire.”

He saw private-public partnerships as the way to combine the public sector’s ability to raise affordable financing with the private sector’s skills at building and operating projects.

Tabourian aims to put in place a strategic power plan for the next 25 years — a tall order since the government will only last until a parliamentary election next May or June.

Such a master plan would set policy on the future energy mix — coal, natural gas, liquefied natural gas and renewables all have their advocates alongside the fuel oil and diesel now used.

But long-term investments need consistent political support.

“Unfortunately what we have seen is successive governments often re-examining issues and taking a different tack,” said Simon Stolp, a World Bank expert. “What they really need to do is set in train a course of action and pursue it to the end.”

Khoury champions a bigger private sector role and more emphasis on renewables like solar and wind power.

“I hope the government will listen to us,” he said. “But they need to listen more to the people who get six-hour power cuts a day, who cannot warm their water or light their homes.

“Unfortunately because of the lack of good services in Lebanon, we tend to consider that 24-hour electricity is a luxury. This is quite sad. It is our right.” (Editing by Sara Ledwith)