GovernanceJun 22, 2023
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and Curbing Rampant Corruption in Lebanon
- Christelle Barakat
As part of its advocacy efforts towards building a people-centered and sustainable recovery from the Beirut port explosion and its endeavors to promote inclusive and equitable social justice, as well as foster trust between individuals, entities, and the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) partnered with Transparency International (TI) and its local chapter, Transparency International Lebanon – No Corruption, to issue “The Reform Monitor.” The topics covered by the monitor are linked to the areas of reform, recovery, and reconstruction (3RF). The monitor falls within the Building Integrity and National Accountability in Lebanon (BINA’) project, which is funded by the European Union. At the end of December 2022, the overall framework was reviewed for evaluation and adaptation purposes based on the closeout of the first phase, with foreseen updates underway. The views expressed in the monitor do not necessarily reflect those of the donor.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE AT HAND?
On 31 October 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which entered into force on 14 December 2005. In 2009, Lebanon officially acceded to the treaty, thus committing to combat corruption through the creation and implementation of measures that prevent corruption in the public and private sectors, the establishment and strengthening of criminal offenses covering acts and crimes of corruption, international legal cooperation to gather and transfer evidence and extradite offenders, and the recovery of assets lost to crimes of corruption.
Article 6 of the UNCAC stresses the creation of relevant bodies to implement preventive anticorruption measures, including participatory policies enshrining the rule of law, the management of public assets, accountability, transparency, and integrity. This includes the continuous review of laws and legal instruments to evaluate their effectiveness. These anti-corruption bodies also supervise the creation and dissemination of knowledge to combat corruption. The UNCAC emphasizes the independence of such bodies to protect them from undue influence. It also describes the need for them to be provided with funds, training, and staff to carry out their mandate.
Following the 2019 uprising against corruption, the Combatting Corruption in the Public Sector and the Creation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission law (Law No. 175/2020) was adopted in 2020, officially creating the NACC. The law took effect on 14 May 2020, after its publication in the Official Gazette. Lebanon’s creation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in 2020 reflects part of the fulfillment of its commitments to UNCAC to combat corruption. However, there are many persisting challenges which currently hinder the work of the NACC, exacerbated by the severe economic crisis Lebanon is undergoing.
Moreover, corruption remains prevalent in Lebanon and is worsening in light of the crisis, which further paralyzes the work of governmental institutions. Lebanon’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has declined from a 30/100 score in 2012 to a 24/100 score in 2021 and 2022, indicating rampant and worsening corruption in the country, which directly and negatively impacts social stability. According to Transparency International, these levels of corruption produce dissatisfaction on the part of individuals at local and national levels, feelings of unsafety, and lack of trust in the government’s duty to protect citizens and residents.
Throughout the years, there has been increasing public interest in countering corruption in Lebanon, particularly in the public sector where it is widespread. Between the late 2010s and the present time, anti-corruption laws have been strengthened and expanded upon, with specific laws being passed in relation to illicit enrichment and whistleblower protection. Indeed, illicit enrichment deprives Lebanese citizens of public funds and resources they are entitled to and the protection of whistleblowers encourages individuals to come forward and speak up if they have information regarding instances of corruption and actors engaging in corruption crimes. Corruption in general and its related subtopics have been the main areas of focus of the NACC since its inception. This issue of the Reform Monitor addresses the role of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the ways it is engaging at various levels to address this troubling trend.
The NACC’s Inception
In early 2018, the Parliamentary Committee of Finance and Budget voted to establish the NACC. It was envisioned for the commission to monitor the implementation of anti-corruption laws passed by the parliament, including pre-existing and future laws such as the Right of Access to Information Law (2017), the Whistleblowers’ Protection Law (2018), the Law for Strengthening Transparency in the Petroleum Sector (2018), the Law on Illicit Enrichment (2020), Combatting Corruption in the Public Sector and the Establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Law (2020), and Law no. 214 regarding the recovery of assets following corruption crimes (2021). To do so, the NACC was given executive powers to prosecute violations, including issuing travel bans and lifting banking secrecy protection.
Membership and Responsibilities
The NACC is composed of six members: a President, a Vice-President, and four specialized members in areas related to combatting corruption. The President and Vice President are retired honorary judges who are elected by senior judges in the judiciary system to serve a non-renewable term of six years. According to Article 6 of the Combatting Corruption law, upon retirement, the highest-ranking judge becomes the president of the NACC, and if both judges have equal rank, then the one with seniority becomes president of the commission.
The four other members of the NACC are also appointed for non-renewable terms of six years through a ministerial decree. Their selection relies on a nomination process from the Beirut and Tripoli Bar Associations (a legal expert or attorney), the Lebanese Association of Certified Public Accountants (an accountant), the Banking Control Commission of Lebanon (a financial expert), and a representative from the Ministry of the State for Administrative Reform.
The NACC was created as an independent commission having legal personality and administrative as well as financial independence guaranteed by Article 5 of the Combatting Corruption law. To avoid any conflict of interest, all members should not be politically affiliated, run for elections, or “hold any other position” during their terms. They are also given legal immunity.
According to Article 18 of the Combatting Corruption law, the NACC’s responsibilities revolve around:
- gathering complaints related to corruption, investigating these complaints, and referring corruption cases for prosecution by the judiciary,
- monitoring the prevalence and cost of corruption and publishing-related reports,
- giving expert opinion and advice to combat corruption on the national and local levels, and
- overseeing the creation and dissemination of awareness and relevant materials tied to combatting corruption.
The NACC is also tasked with carrying out additional specific functions, as stated in the Combatting Corruption law and in complementary laws covering areas related to fighting corruption. These functions include accepting complaints in relation to the non-implementation of the Access to Information Law and enforcing its proper implementation, receiving notices from whistleblowers and guaranteeing their protection, as well as processing and auditing declarations of assets and interests.
Challenges Facing the NACC
According to Article 9 of the Combatting Corruption law, the NACC must create and finalize its internal rules of procedure and code of conduct within three months of the official appointment and confirmation of its members. In April 2022, the NACC submitted the necessary documents to the State Council, which requested that the NACC share them with the Civil Service Board for review. As of the time of writing, the documents have not been approved. These delays have been attributed to bureaucratic processes and the current state of public administration. The appointment of a secretary general and administrative body has in turn been postponed until the approval of these documents.
Moreover, according to Article 15, 10 billion Lebanese pounds is to be allocated to the NACC, in addition to its general budget for the first operating year. On 26 August 2022, the first transfer of 6 billion Lebanese pounds was approved to the NACC but was only received by the end of that year. By that time, the Lebanese pound had further lost value. The remaining 4 billion Lebanese pounds have yet to be disbursed. These budgetary issues, particularly in light of the current crisis, further stall the work of the NACC and hinder it.
Developments Linked to the NACC
Since its inception, the NACC has received in-kind support from international organizations and governments, including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the European Union, Denmark, and South Korea. Even though it was to be officially established in 2020, it was not activated until 2022, upon completion of its membership. It organized a public event in December 2022 to mark its official public launch. During this event, the NACC stressed the need for the promotion of a culture of integrity. It also explained its mandate and responsibilities, emphasizing transparency and the need to protect whistleblowers. The main laws it currently oversees are related to the following: the right of access to information, whistleblower protection, hydrocarbon sector transparency, illicit enrichment, and public procurement.
In April 2023, the NACC completed its 2023-2024 action plan and launched it during a strategic workshop focused on its activation in light of concurring Lebanese crises. The action plan highlights the need to enhance the commission’s role and work, as well as the creation of a joint coordination platform between the NACC and its global partners so that the commission can better implement its legal mandate and meet public expectations. The NACC also reiterated its commitment to transparency and to increase public trust in the commission, noting some achievements, like the creation of a website and the completion of its communication and media plan.
Currently, the NACC is working to strengthen the protection of whistleblowers. The commission would also like to ultimately digitize the process both of asset declarations and receipt of complaints from individuals and groups regarding access to information, among others.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Corruption overall thwarts equality and justice. It causes a loss of resources and gives undue advantages to individuals profiting from it. As mentioned above, corruption also negatively impacts social stability. While the current crisis creates an atmosphere that could potentially be conducive to more corruption, the NACC itself was borne out of frustration with rampant corruption, building on civil society’s efforts and campaigning to pressure the government into fighting corruption.
The series of crises that Lebanon is currently undergoing poses an additional strain on a nascent and budding NACC, particularly in terms of securing resources for its operation and full activation.
Moreover, there has been some movement to investigate cases of corruption, particularly those related to illicit enrichment in land registries. The Beirut port blast investigation also remains a hot topic of contention, with neglect, abuse of power, and mismanagement surrounding it. This is also true for investigations pertaining to the economic and financial crises that Lebanon is still experiencing.International organizational support for the NACC, including the European Union, UN agencies, foreign governments, and local civil society is important for fostering transparency and accountability and rebuilding trust among different stakeholders and between them and the government. Indeed, this support creates momentum around the need for reforms and extends legitimacy to the NACC. However, if the NACC continues to depend on in-kind support from international actors due to a dearth of resources, this is bound to cast a shadow of doubt on its independence, particularly if it cannot secure adequate funding.
Moving forward, civil society organizations in Lebanon can support the NACC by raising public awareness about the commission’s role and work and by supporting its efforts to combat corruption.
UNDP Lebanon. (April 20, 2023). The National Anti-Corruption Commission Completes its Annual Action Plan in Partnership with UNDP and Explores Avenues of Cooperation with Regional and International Partners in light of Current Challenges and Opportunities. UNDP Lebanon.Christelle Barakat is a researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. She is a recent Lebanese Fulbright Foreign Student program graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, holding an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies with a concentration on International Peace Development. She completed her BA in Political Science and International Affairs with high distinction from the Lebanese American University. Her areas of interest include conflict analysis and resolution, disarmament, globalization, migration and refugee studies, and women and gender studies.