There’s a great deal of fake goods in Lebanon’s malls leaving many preferring to buy their designer label clothes when they travel overseas. But fake Lebanon goes beyond Levi jeans or Gucci handbags. In this tiny country ‘fake’ is often services, entire companies and even doctors, care workers, economists. Then there is the fake economy run by a network of companies willing and ready to support a market exploited by the corrupt elite anxious to get their hands on international development cash.
And when you’ve got your head around this fake world, then there is the biggest drain on Lebanon: fake governance.
Fake governance is politicians and MPs pretending to do their jobs when in reality all they are doing is using their position to divert cash into their own overseas bank accounts via a system which has simply got out of hand. Corruption is a hungry pike which has swallowed up a pond full of small fry players who play by the rules. It’s just too late now to hope for a miracle.
And this, in case you were wondering, is what is happening now in Lebanon when we read articles about a new anti-corruption drive brought about by an imploding economy. In January, the national debt reached $85.32 billion — nearly 150% of the gross domestic product — an increase of $4.93 billion compared to January 2018. This debt forced an international conference in Paris called ‘the CEDRE conference’ which in April 2018, international donors committed $11.8 billion to revitalize the economy, while the Lebanese government pledged in return to combat corruption and reform the public sector.
Or at least that’s what written on the side of the tin.
True, the Paris conference has driven a momentum in Lebanon to tackle corruption, but it’s largely for all the wrong reasons and, mostly, entirely fake.
But who to target in such a campaign, in a country which has a built in protection against those carrying out the industrial scale graft?
Public employees are the only viable group as Parliamentarians have a de facto immunity under Lebanese law, while nailing presidents, prime ministers and ministers (former or present) requires the consent of the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers, which includes eight of the most senior national judges and seven deputies selected by the parliament. That’s a tad complicated given that judges are considered to be a big part of the problem.
Or at least that’s what Hezbollah believes, hence its own farcical war cry against this group – former leaders and judges – to counter the other groups’ own farcical campaigns against public servants.
Yet neither is expected to really do anything. The non-Hezbollah camp, led my Saad Hariri who can hardly be called candida when it comes to feeding from the trough wants to create a pantomime for international donors so that they can get their hands on a big part of the 11bn dollars pledged (90% of which is in loans) , with rumours in Beirut about the environment ministry embezzling a couple of billion dollars abound. Of course, these sort of rumours barely stir the Lebanese who resort to humour to face the reality that faces them, like parodying the new minister in the same ministry who is a real estate tycoon who can’t even keep the plant in his office alive; this is in a country, after all, where each government minister has his own business empire – even the former anti-corruption minister who made his pile in tyres and who’s entire office amounts of three staff and a fax machine – and which has a tourism minister who is so stupid, that he is actually driving droves of tourists away with his one man campaign of idiocy. Add to that a central bank governor who, wait for it, actually knows a thing or two about banking but is not even exempt from rumours of plundering billions. And let’s not even get on the news this week that the central bank in Beirut lost 20bn dollars, which is probably fake news. Apparently.
The real corruption is not with public servants in Lebanon but with the Key Stone Cops who get the jobs of government ministerial posts, for really only one purpose which is to embezzle funds assiduously as possible for their own warlords who installed them there for that express purpose.
The system is corrupt and until there is a momentum of debate in Lebanon about how to wipe the slate clean and go for a new system entirely – probably one which does away with the confessional one – corruption will always run and control every single dime which is in circulation. It’s not only that an economy is held back from developing – as it frightens away foreign investors who would truly love to tap into the high level of education and location - but even security, law and order, the environment and public health are horrendously compromised as a result. The elite are fervently committed to allowing the ‘wasta’ (corruption by kinship) system prevail and law and order remain as a fanciful notion most Lebanese watch on American TV as it is a tacit deal between them and the masses which support them. Deeply unpopular moves, like, say installing law and order on the roads to curtain the daily carnage, would be deeply unpopular and be seen as a drain on people’s strained purses. Corruption works both ways.
Hezbollah’s anti-corruption drum beat though is driven by US sanctions against Iran, forcing the Lebanese Shiite group to be more creative in how it extracts valuable dollars from the system. They will either get the scalps they crave, or cash as a good substitute. All we are seeing with these anti-corruption drives is groups scrapping over bones, like stray dogs on a rubbish dump of what many might call a smouldering failed state. But fake Lebanon is producing the fake news, by the fake politicians who are faking their anti-graft drive. If most Lebanese taxi drivers know this, why is international media giving it such credibility? Is international media also fake?