BEIRUT: Gemmayzeh’s main street is littered with an ever-changing roster of pubs, shops and restaurants, but Thursday morning witnessed the opening of a new kind of store – one aimed at fighting corruption in a country where fraud and bribery are rampant.
Above the vaunted archway entrance to Dekkenet al-Balad (The country’s store) a sign says: “Everything is for sale, even your rights.”
Inside, shelves are stacked with replicas of identification cards, license plates, government exams certifications, electricity meters, and even trophies – all up for sale. Tip jars, a reference to the way bribes are normally presented, are strewn haphazardly on the shelves and tables.
On one shelf sit several large binders with titles such as “Golden phone numbers,” “First-grade jobs,” and “Prices of electoral votes for the qada of Baabda.”
Slogans such as “The law changes according to the needs” are scrawled on the walls.
All of this is the work of Sakker al-Dekkene, a new nonprofit organization with ambitious and wide-reaching aims. It wants to pressure governmental institutions to do away with nepotism, stop taking bribes to speed up paperwork, and use more legal means to conduct their business.
“We want to change Lebanon, we want to give Lebanon a better image,” Abdo Medlej, the president of the organization, said at the shop’s launch.
Sakker al-Dekkene roughly translates to “shut down the store,” and plays on the idea that public institutions sell official documents and help to expedite administrative procedures for cash, an exchange of goods for money similar to that of shops.
“This store will remain open as long as it has customers and people who are going to this store and buying [the products],” Medlej said.
He told The Daily Star the idea of the organization came about almost a year ago, and that more concrete solutions would be put in place depending on the public’s reaction.
During the launch the organization aired a satirical video depicting the Lebanese public sector in the form of a store, with clients asking for paperwork, enquiring about document prices, fighting to stand in line, and finally paying at the register. A politician looking to sell votes is also seen entering the store. The video ends with the Lebanese national anthem.
In targeting corruption, the group is touching on a subject that is widely acknowledged, and which is also widely accepted to be unchangeable.
Lebanon’s public sector ranks 127th in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, and scored 28 on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
Additionally, a survey conducted by the Lebanese Transparency Association and Research and Consulting House (REACH) last year indicated that 66 percent of Lebanese citizens believe that the level of exploitation in the country is the highest it has ever been.
Beginning Thursday, individuals who witness or experience corruption can report the incident anonymously through Sakker al-Dekkene’s call center, website or mobile application. The group plans to park a car bearing its logo in front of the reported institution to notify individuals that corruption is taking place there.
It is also looking to gather detailed statistics on corruption, which will be made available online.
The website has already posted some data on its website based on received reports. The vast majority of complaints – 44 percent – have been made about the Interior Ministry, followed by the Finance Ministry, at 27 percent.
“If we want to fight corruption, people must begin to participate with us in doing that, and this is the basic issue that we are working on,” Medlej stressed.
“The problem is so deeply rooted in our daily lives, so we cannot accept not doing anything.”
For more info on Sakker al-Dekkene visit: www.sakkera.com