Lebanon’s reputation hits an all-time low as garbage piles on its streets
“Where is the government of Lebanon?” is a statement you now regularly hear on the streets as passers-by complain
Lebanon has been turned to a giant trash heap since July 17, after the city dump, located in the Naeema coastal area was shut down, due to politicians’ inability to reach an agreement on where to dump garbage. Trash cans have been set ablaze across Beirut as citizens rally against a government that seems to be more procrastinating than doing its job.
“Where is the government of Lebanon?” is a statement you now regularly hear on the streets as passers-by complain about the smell and health and safety hazards in the heat of the Lebanese summer.
However, given that Lebanon has had no President and the cabinet is effectively handicapped due to lack of consensus amongst politicians, it was no surprise when Yahya Hakim, Secretary General of the Lebanese Transparency Association told Al Arabiya News: “We have a garbage problem in Lebanon now, which is a big issue, and no one is really able to assume their responsibility!”
But garbage isn’t the only thing Lebanon, once dubbed the ‘Switzerland of the East’, has been piling up. The country sits at the bottom of numerous lists on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index of 2014-2015, a report that assesses the ability of countries to provide high levels of prosperity to their citizens.
Out of 144 countries listed in the index, Lebanon ranks at 144, 143 and 142 for public trust in politicians, ethics and corruption and irregular payments and bribes, respectively. But these statistics are nothing to be proud of, rather a cause for grave concern.
Rabih el-Chaer, President of Lebanese anti-corruption NGO ‘Sakkir El Dekkeneh’, told Al Arabiya News: “Look at the garbage problem and you will understand, these politicians don’t have any vision and all what they care about is splitting the profits, and if they agree they carve their share and if they don’t agree they block the country.”
According to the Lebanese Transparency Association, corruption has always existed in Lebanon but its effects were magnified after the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990. Corruption in Lebanon governs all sectors of society and all branches of government.
A country cannot function well when its judicial system is tied to politicians, where the people on trial are the ones stringing the judges, believes El Chaer.
And El-Chaer has a point. The Global Competitiveness Index ranks Lebanon at 138 out of 144 in terms of judicial independence.
Former Lebanese Minister of Finance, Jihad Azour, believes there are several reasons why Lebanon’s public governance is weak. However, there are means to improve the status quo.
“Having a rule of law, creating the right framework, developing a framework of accountability… whenever there is an issue tackle it is what is needed to done,” he told Al Arabiya News.
“When you feel that the law is implemented and that everyone has to comply with the law then people start to behave.”
Easier said than done, some Lebanese would argue.
Empty Promises at high costs
Lebanon acceded to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2009, however no implementation has been seen, thinks Hakim.
“It's an insult, sometimes, to see that after signing all these conventions nobody cares in really following up on what is really happening after signing,” lamented Hakim on the attitude taken by the government in regards to the signing.
“There is no interest in this political class to fight corruption, everyone is a show off, and we cannot continue like that. Each citizen is paying the price by leaving Lebanon or by living in this country as a servant, not as a citizen with full whole rights,” NGO Sakkir El Dekkeneh’s president, El Chaer. stated.
Corruption is costing Lebanon billions of dollars that can be placed into well-managed and well-handled resources that can enhance the country in different ways, believes El Chaer.
“Corruption is costing Lebanon around 15 percent of its GDP. Let’s say our GDP is 60 billion so 15 percent is 7-7.5 billion dollars a year we are losing on corruption. Can you imagine what we can do with this money?” he asked.
“We can pay our public debt interest, we can raise salaries for our civil servants, we can pay our electricity bills, and we can finance reforms.”
Citizens must take action
“We are not citizens yet, because citizens usually are the power behind any government. They can elect their representatives and they can demote them when they don’t do their jobs,” Hakim told Al Arabiya News.
El Chaer also hopes that if the community unites together, justice can be done.
“If we continue to raise our voices, and if we continue to push towards reforms, we can reach somewhere,” he said.
Social media, indeed, has been a powerful catalyst in tackling minor corruption within the country. Campaigns such as ‘#JusticeForYves’ and ‘#JusticeForGeorge’ have helped put the criminals backed up by politicians behind bars.
"We are doomed to be optimistic, despite everything, that’s all I can say at the end of the day,” Hakim said.
However, as garbage continues to pile and the stink fills the air, many Lebanese might disagree.