Monday, August 7, 2017

You don’t fight corruption by screaming at it

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Corruption is not a stray cat. You don’t scare it away by screaming at it. Corruption is a disease. Badmouthing it doesn’t lead anywhere either. A disease has no shame. It doesn’t care what you think. It takes over a body, and without the right cure, it’ll end up devouring it and killing it.

How long have people in Lebanon been denouncing corruption? How many protests have been staged against it? How many time a corruption scandal made the buzz on the Internet? How many times, before the Internet, writers, journalists, activists, even politicians have shed light on it? But it’s still here, stronger than ever, consuming every part of Lebanese society.

Did you ever wonder why?

We talk about corruption as if it was some dark mythical creature, lurking in the shadows but nowhere to be seen. As if it had no name and no face. Like a powerful ghostly demon haunting our country. How can we possibly defeat something that has no name and no face? How can we possibly defeat a ghost?

We blame politicians. Politicians in general. We say: they’re all corrupt, kellon ya3né kellon. But we forget one simple and obvious truth: when everyone is guilty, no one is. The guilty hide among the innocent and act as if they are one indivisible entity. They put the innocent forward and, by association, walk free with them.

You want to catch corrupt politicians? Start with one, only one, a big one, a powerful one, and get digging. Build a case. Expose the details. Seek justice. Don’t let go until he’s prosecuted and punished. It’s not easy but it’s feasible, as we’ve seen in many countries around the world. Not everyone in Lebanon is corrupt or corruptible. There are many honest judges that would prosecute if your case is strong enough.

When you’re done, move to the next powerful politician. And go through the same process all over again. You may think it would take too long. Perhaps. But better too long than never. Because never is where we’re at today.

And don’t forget that catching a big fish means exposing and bringing down his entire corruption network. No one is ever corrupt on his own. Once you throw the net, expect it to be filled.

Would this eradicate corruption? Is the latter exclusive to politicians? If it were, it would have disappeared a long time ago. Politicians don’t live forever. But corruption doesn’t seem to die with them. It goes on, like a damned spirit transmigrating from one body to another, thus living forever.

Corruption outlives politicians because it’s not exclusive to them, because it’s a system and they are only one part of it.

Fighting this system isn't complicated. A few laws would be enough to make it extremely difficult for anyone to corrupt or be corrupted. For example: every person working in the public sector and for government institutions will have to undergo a regular financial audit. Every six months for anyone holding a political office (president, member of parliament, government minister) and once a year for all long-term employees, regardless of hierarchy.

Another measure would be the creation of an anti-corruption brigade. Not a gung-ho guns-blazing movie-like brigade. But a scientific team made of experts, in law, in finance and banking, in accounting, supported of course by serious muscle in case the people investigated feel like playing Escobar.

But above all, fighting corruption starts with each and every one of us. And that’s the tough part. Because, in Lebanon, corruption is a way of life. Let’s face it, the political establishment is corrupt because society is. Not the other way around. Don’t we say about honest people: harâm édamé, as if honesty was some sort of incurable illness?

I’d be a billionaire if I had a penny every time someone bitching about corruption told me about a known crooked politician or businessman he or she knows: "yes, but he’s a nice guy" or "he’s generous with his people" or "he never refuses to grant a favor".

I wouldn’t be less wealthy if I had a dollar every time I went to an anticorruption protest and met with people indulging in everyday corruption – inflating an invoice, taking a bribe, skimming money from projects they work on.

There are many ways to fight corruption. But screaming at it is not one of them. Especially if we’re not ready to change our ways and see corrupt people for what they are: criminals.


© Claude El Khal, 2017

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