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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Corruption suffocates the Lebanese

A lack of will exists in the country’s government and media to investigate corrupt practices perpetrated daily in the public and private sector

Lebanese women wave their national flag and hold placards as they take part in a protest in Beirut on March 12, 2016 against corruption and the garbage crisis. (AFP/Patrick Baz)

It does not take an expert to understand why Transparency International ranks Lebanon 123 on its Corruption Perception Index out of 168 countries surveyed. If you are Lebanese or live in Lebanon, you can collect dozens of stories of citizens who have been victims of corruption, both in the private and public sectors.

 

After decades of working for the state’s Aviation Authority, my in-laws are now retired and look for the Cooperation of Civil Servants (CCS) for their medical care coverage.

 

And because the failing Lebanese state has not settled its debt with private hospitals, many of those — such as the American University of Beirut (AUB) — let their contracts with the government expire, thus turning down anyone with a CCS insurance.

 

Other private medical centers, like the Khoury Hospital in Hamra, have been gracious enough to continue accepting the CCS insurance, albeit with a caveat.

 

By law, CCS covers 90 percent of any medical bill that a retired civil servant incurs. But Khoury Hospital refuses to issue bills. Instead, its accountants insist that patients pay a “deposit” out of pocket, and call it a day. The deposit amount is never itemized. When CCS patients complain, Khoury Hospital opens the door for haggling, and often knocks down its already hefty bill.

 

Khoury hospital is clearly overcharging the government, while at the same time defrauding its patients.

 

My father-in-law has been the victim of corruption at Khoury Hospital. When he worked his connections and pulled some favors, he found himself at the office of the CCS director, who consoled him by saying that “everyone complains about this hospital.” The director then advised him to “change hospitals.”

 

So now, my in-laws have to change doctors and drive to medical centers far away from where they live in order to get some decent medical coverage at hospitals that are not as corrupt as Khoury.

 

In normal countries, when journalists write about corruption, they receive calls from state inspectors or auditors who investigate the matter and prosecute the corrupt. So if any state official is reading these lines and feels an obligation to act, I will be happy to provide names and details of accountants at the Khoury Hospital. 

 

Another anecdote about corruption comes from the public sector. My family has owned real estate in Beirut since the 1950s. Despite his best effort, my father found it impossible during the civil war to obtain licenses for renovation work. Since 1990, he has managed to pay past due real estate taxes, but has had a harder time settling what amounts to minor “building violations.”

 

A short while ago, my father invited commissioners from the Beirut Municipality to check the property in order to settle past violations and obtain licenses for pending renovations.

 

After touring the property, the woman from the Beirut Municipality asked for $12,000 in bribes to “fix things.” When my father complained, she gave him her phone number and told him that when he decides to pursue his project, he knows how to find her.

 

My father was not as lucky as my father-in-law. He could not find any “common friends” who could pull some favors at the municipality, or perhaps lower the bribe amount. With little options, my father decided to pay the hefty bribe, only for the Beirut Municipality representative to produce a “contract” that was designed to make his payment look like he was buying the service of an obscure consultancy. The official was clearly trying to cover the trail of her corruption.

 

Like in the case of the Khoury Hospital, if any Lebanese official is reading these lines and cares, I will be happy to produce the name and details of the corrupt engineer at the Beirut Municipality.

 

In the old times, the media played a role in reigning in excesses in the public and private sectors. Nowadays, the media has become obsessed with the tired political bickering, or alternatively — in order to attract readership and internet traffic — with “yellow journalism” stories of a sexual nature.

 

Perhaps if the Lebanese can boost the readership of stories that investigate corruption, the media will again develop an interest in going after crooked officials in the public and private sector.

 

Until that happens, a majority of the Lebanese — like my father and my father-in-law — will continue to suffer from Lebanon’s rampant corruption.

Lebanese women wave their national flag and hold placards as they take part in a protest in Beirut on March 12, 2016 against corruption and the garbage crisis. (AFP/Patrick Baz)

Perhaps if the Lebanese can boost the readership of stories that investigate corruption, the media will again develop an interest in going after crooked officials in the public and private sector.

  • Nm123

    The most corrupt people i know in Lebanon are the ones who denounce corruption... C'est le monde a l'envers!!crazy!

    August 23, 2016

  • fadi c

    Do you know the story of the frog that will jump immediately out of a pot of boiling water if dropped in it, but would obliviously allow itself to be literally boiled to death, without any reaction if it is dropped in cool water that is brought gradually up to boiling point? Well, this is our story; the story of the average lebanese who, while outraged by corruption, has become so decensitized after decades of worsening moral, ethical and decency decline that all they can bring themselves up to do is complain and nag about it but without taking anykind of concrete action. Unfortunately we are allowing the corrupt Maffia who controls the country to fleece us to death and we are not even capable of voting against them, like during the last municipal elections. Our machiavelic maffia has played there cards well. They rule over a population of decensitized frogs.

    August 23, 2016

  • Diocletian

    Well I don't know if there's been a time where the Lebanese were more fed up about corruption than today. Conversely, you have news papers failing because their readers are dwindling. Seems like a no-brainer.

    August 22, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    تعاونية = cooperative, not cooperation. But thanks for putting the spotlight on corruption. When I moved from overseas to Lebanon a few years back, I went to settle my bill at the shipping company MSC. I had already paid what should have been half the cost in the country of origin. After waiting in humiliating conditions, amid dust, dirt, and cigarette smoke for some sense of line or order, I was asked to pay an amount that was higher than the remaining half I expected to pay. But eager to finish with the nightmare (since I was equally bamboozled at Beirut Harbor to get my container "inspected" and released), I paid the sum requested, only to be issued an invoice (after I paid) for less than what I already paid. The jerk at the counter had just pocketed some decent cash, without a trace other than my word against his. Yes, corruption is an art, and private or public, all these Lebanese clerks and employees manning all these filthy offices live up to the self-proclaimed arrogant creativity that the Lebanese brag about to the rest of the world. I bet you these are the same people who build themselves palaces and drive monstrous cars with shaded windows and 3- or 4-digit plates... But as my grandmother always said: مال الحرام ما بدوم.

    August 22, 2016