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Dima Mahdi, researcher at LCPS

February 2019
Citizens Believe the Government Should Prioritize Tackling Widespread Corruption

Lebanon is the fifth most corrupt country in the Middle East according to Transparency International. Worse yet, according to the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, Lebanon lacks the institutional capacity to combat corruption. It is no surprise that political parties made combating corruption a central feature of their electoral campaigns in the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary elections. Even the newly formed government, through its ministerial statement, has vowed to tackle corruption by adopting the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and its implementation plan, which was led by Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform. Lebanon suffers not only from bureaucratic and petty corruption that often entails paying bribes to facilitate bureaucratic work but also from political or grand corruption, which is deeply rooted in the country’s power-sharing system and clientelistic networks. In light of this, the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies sought to examine peoples’ perceptions of corruption, where it is perceived to occur the most, which institutions are most corrupt, and finally, why people engage in it. 
To this end, LCPS analyzed a public opinion survey of 1,200 Lebanese respondents conducted by Statistics Lebanon in October 2018. The sample was distributed equally between genders and is representative of the confessional and regional distribution of the population. Consider first that 98% of survey respondents report that corruption is highly prevalent in the country, meaning there is a near nationwide consensus that bribes and wasta—entailing the use of clientelistic networks and influence for favors or access to jobs and services—are corrupt practices. Moreover, the majority of respondents report that corruption is worsening in scope and is taking an increased toll on citizens’ lives. 
Peoples’ perceptions of corruption are affected by three factors: First, their area of residence. Corruption perceptions are highest among citizens residing in the least economically developed governorates, such as in Akkar, Baalbek-Hermel, and Bekaa—a finding consistent with the observation that less developed areas are disproportionately affected by corruption. Second, politically connected individuals—those who have easy access to political networks for the purpose of securing social services—express lower perceptions of corruption. Such individuals tend to have greater access to clientelistic networks, suffer less from corrupt practices, and generally express greater trust in public institutions. Third, citizens with a stronger sectarian identity—meaning those who identify with their confessional group to a large degree—also perceive lower levels of corruption. 
Corruption is not only perceived to be prevalent at the national level, it is also perceived as widespread at the regional and local levels. For instance, some 45% of respondents report a higher prevalence of corruption in institutions at the national level while 30% and 25% of respondents perceive higher levels of corruption at the governorate and local levels, respectively. Moreover, residents in lagging regions—Akkar, South Lebanon, Nabatiyeh, Bekaa, and Baalbek-Hermel—observe the highest levels of corruption at the municipal level. 
Many different actors are viewed by respondents as engaging in corruption. The overwhelming majority of respondents, specifically 99% and 96%, report that corruption is practiced by the Lebanese government and political parties respectively. To a lesser extent, 88% of respondents state that private businesses engage in corrupt practices and 69% state that civil society organizations do the same.

Approximately two-thirds of respondents report that “ordinary citizens” also engage in corruption. This finding is partially explained by the fact that some 80% agree that bribes achieve desired outcomes and over 90% report a lack of social responsibility or ethics; greed or ambition to get rich; and low salaries as motivations for engaging in corruption. Moreover, 85% of respondents state that familial pressure also acts as a driver of such practices. Furthermore, over 90% of respondents recognize that engaging in corrupt acts—including paying bribes or leveraging wasta—are necessary in order to speed up public processes, secure another source of income, avoid “higher payments”, and ensure “proper” or preferential treatment during interactions with public officials. Additionally, 86% of respondents cite “avoiding penalties” as a motivation for engaging in corruption, whereby a penalty entails creating bottlenecks in processing public procedures or slowing down procedures. In addition, 77% of surveyed Lebanese state that they believe, quite simply, that engaging in corrupt practices is the only way to get things done. 
So what are we to make of these findings and what might these findings suggest about measures and initiatives to mitigate both the practice of engaging in corruption as well as the negative effects of corrupt practices? Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system has fostered clientelistic networks and crippled the central authority of the state, laying bare how socioeconomic factors and political connections influence perceptions of corruption.

A lack of political will has left past anti-corruption initiatives at best ineffective, as measures combating corruption are rarely, if ever, a central feature of policy-making. Even if such measures were implemented in earnest, effective anti-corruption initiatives would require buy-in among the electorate. In light of this, it is crucial to take the Lebanese public’s perceptions of corruption into account as any corruption mitigation endeavor would need to be seen as both beneficial and legitimate among the public—those who bear the brunt of these practices and potentially stand to gain the most if they are tempered.
Alongside national legislative and administrative reforms that have been recommended to address corruption—such as empowering oversight institutions and passing laws that limit and control corruption and promote transparency—efforts should be directed toward educating and influencing citizens’ behavior. This is no small task. In order to tackle corruption more effectively, which includes normalized practices in public procedures, there is a need to include measures that directly shape citizens’ perceptions of corruption. Such measures may include information or shaming campaigns in order to raise public integrity standards and influence engagement in corrupt practices. Moreover, incentivizing whistleblowers through introducing a reward system could prompt more people to speak up about corrupt practices.

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