Without a serious fight against corruption, applying meaningful economic reforms is farfetched.
- by Bassem Ajami -Source: Annahar
The raging debate over the proposed austerity budget leads to addressing a maze of complex issues. At the heart of the debate is not the need for economic reforms, but where to begin such reforms.
Achieving economic reforms demands rehabilitating various organs of the government, paramount among which is the justice system, which includes law enforcement (the police), the prosecutors and the courts.
This, in turn, leads to the need to combat corruption, which invokes confronting the ruling class, since it is the one blamed by the general public for fostering fraud in government.
Yet it’s this same ruling class that’s responsible for formulating the austerity budget, which brings us back to square one. Nonetheless, at the core of reforms is having a reliable justice system. But having such a system is obstructed by several barriers. One such barrier is a law that offers immunity to all civil servants. No civil servant may be questioned by law enforcement unless permission by the minister concerned is granted. Lawyers and doctors enjoy a similar immunity. Why all these immunities?
They only mean a lack of trust in the justice system. If such lack of confidence exists, then the three components of the judicial system need rehabilitation. Such task demands first and foremost establishing a police academy where future law enforcement officers are provided with the necessary training on how to collect evidence and present them to the prosecutors.
In Lebanon, only minimal training is given since no modern police academy exists. The late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri fought hard to establish such academy, but his effort was frustrated by the politicians.
Apart from the blanket immunities which are unjustifiably granted, the work of law enforcement officers is hindered by conflicting powers within the justice system. While it’s the duty of the police to initiate an investigation into a suspected crime, some prosecutors have voiced objections to this. They insist that no investigation may be started except under their direct supervision.
The dispute is serious enough to convene the Supreme Defense Council two weeks ago, but no concrete result was reached to resolve the matter. Until then, fighting corruption remains in question. And without a serious fight against corruption, applying meaningful economic reforms is farfetched.
Another obstacle to economic reforms is that much of the overspending is “legal,” in the sense that it’s due to faults in the law. One example is the compensation given to former members of parliament. Another is the end of service and retirement benefits enjoyed by members of the armed services.
Yet, a more serious obstacle to economic reforms is the conflicting perceptions over the role that the banks may play in such reforms. This touches a sensitive chord in the entire process as it involves political choices.
Supporting an increased role by the banks is widely interpreted as endorsing Hezbollah and its allies while subjecting such a role to serious reforms in government administration and spending is viewed as objecting to the function of Hezbollah and its allies in the reforming process.
Against such a complex web of issues, a bleak picture of Lebanon’s future emerges. This is especially so as it becomes increasingly difficult to separate events in Lebanon from the implications of monumental events going around it in the region.