BEIRUT: While levels of corruption in Lebanon’s defense sector are lower than the country’s institutions as a whole, it is still identified as high risk, according to a global report from Transparency International launched Wednesday.
At the regional launch in Beirut, the chair of TI’s local branch, Nada Abdel-Sater Abu Samra, said the struggle to fight corruption was a long journey, but that considerable steps had already been taken, evidenced by the high level of Army representation at the launch.
Representing Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi was Army Chief of Staff Maj. Walid Salman, and Aley lawmaker Fouad Saad attended on behalf of President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
When the Lebanese Transparency Association was established in 1999, she said, the government refused to even recognize the existence of corruption, but now the fight to combat the problem was one of Sleiman’s slogans.
But while Lebanon ranked in 128th place out of 176 countries in the recent TI global corruption index, in this new defense report, which is the first of its kind, the country receives the highest place achieved by any country in the Middle East and North Africa region – a D+, meaning the corruption risk is classified as “high.”
Lebanon shares this rating with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Israel. Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a “very high” risk, and Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen have a “critical” risk of corruption within the military.
The index, which took two years to compile, looks at the political, financial, personnel, operations and procurement corruption risks within the defense sector. Report authors invited the relevant Defense ministries to contribute to the findings, but all 19 MENA countries declined this invitation.
“A central requirement for any nation is to have defense and security forces which are trusted,” said Mark Pyman, program director of the defense and security countercorruption program at TI.
The lack of such trust was one of the causal factors behind many of the ongoing Arab Spring uprisings, he said, adding that “corruption can prolong fighting and prevent sustainable peace.”
TI chose to produce an extra report focusing on the MENA region partly because levels of spending here are so high, and because “defense has been even more closed than elsewhere in the world ... and in many of these countries it’s actually dangerous to talk about it, indeed in some countries it’s against the law,” Pyman said in an interview with The Daily Star ahead of the launch.
Lebanon scored higher than other countries in the region, he said, partially due to the generally high regard in which the population holds the Army, meaning the institution is more inclined to be open about its workings.
Of the 82 countries studied in the global report, Lebanon is one of only 10 that spend over 4 percent of their GDP on military expenditures, but it publishes a nearly complete budget, and the Defense Ministry “has very little under the heading of secret items, where in other countries it is right up to 100 percent of the budget,” Pyman said.
“I think the fact it’s a well-respected institution and therefore it has some degree of confidence in itself is probably one of the most fundamental reasons,” he said, adding that, “it seems to have a good relationship with the legislature, as opposed to one of complete separation.”
The occurrence of corruption, Salman said, wherever it exists, “is not the result of a gap or a mistake in society, but the result of a lack of good implementation of the law.”
Lebanon’s Army, he added, was the best guarantor of security and equality for all citizens, and should act as a model for society in its efforts to prevent “any danger which jeopardizes our country.”
The Lebanese Army has had a difficult week after two soldiers were killed in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal while trying to arrest a man, also killed in the ambush, who was wanted on terrorism charges.
In order to improve its standing, Pyman said, the country’s defense sector should improve the quality of its independent scrutiny of spending and policy and to engage with and open up to civil society groups.