MP Moukheiber: Government vacuum hampers anti-corruption efforts

Daily Star                                                           11 May 2011
BEIRUT: The head of the parliamentary Administration and Justice Committee, Ghassan Moukheiber, slammed Tuesday the ongoing impasse in government, blaming the legislative stalemate for the lack of anti-corruption and other reforms.
“We need to break the [existing] obstacles and have free work in Parliament to pass new legislation,” said Moukheiber, while condemning the Lebanese parliamentary system for being slow, inefficient and unresponsive to popular demands.
“In a democratic system there should be a real electoral system, through which people can fight corruption,” he said.
Presently, “most people in Parliament that are elected are not really competent and don’t know what their roles and duties are … this allows them to be seen as budding tools of corruption” by the people, who do not feel that their interests are represented, the Change and Reform Bloc MP added.
Speaking at a Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) conference entitled “From Grassroots Demands to Institutional Reforms,” Moukheiber complained that since 2009, Parliament only met four times to pass legislative work, a sluggishness infuriated by ongoing Cabinet formation.
Moukheiber also insisted that parliamentary committees meet too infrequently to accomplish desired results, but asserted that several pieces of legislation, such as measures to protect whistle-blowers, were ready and awaiting the “very slow” parliamentary process.
Lebanon has been without a Cabinet since Jan 12. when caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government was toppled over disagreements about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The ensuing political turmoil, combined with the wave of popular unrest that has swept the Arab world since January, have hit the Lebanese economy hard, forcing the Finance Ministry this week to revise down growth projections from around 7 percent in 2010 to 2.5 percent for 2011.
“In Lebanon, the Gross Domestic Product indicators, in addition to the budget deficit show that as a country depending on tourism [Lebanon] will be affected by the events in the Middle East,” said Dany Haddad, senior researcher at LTA. “The Lebanese revolution is a matter of time.”
Lebanon exhibits similar economic indicators to Morocco and Egypt, which were both struck by major protests. All three countries recorded around 20 percent unemployment, combined with an average of 5 percent growth in the last six years.
“Economically we are very bad and politically we are very bad because all the political institutions are paralyzed,” said Haddad. “Each country has its cutoff point when discontent – over issues like low wages and high fuel prices – can no longer be tolerated.”
While legislative reforms on problems like corruption are necessary, issues advanced by civil society do not necessarily reflect the needs of the people, he explained.
More attention must be paid to the Gross National Happiness indicators, which assess the real needs of the people, such as access to health, over economic growth statistics.
According to Haddad, no such surveys have ever been conducted in Lebanon, although he believes that the country is performing poorly in many of these fields.
Government stagnation has also exasperated unrest in Roumieh prison, where some prisoners are currently on hunger strike in the latest wave of protests to hit the jail, less than a month after wide scale rioting lead to the deaths of at least two inmates.
“Some prisoners say MPs have expressed willingness to help them,” said Moukheiber, who acted as a mediator between prisoners and prison authorities earlier this week.
However, they feel they cannot help, “as they fear their interventions will not be efficient because of the Parliament and the cabinet stalemate, so they don’t know when they will be able to do anything,” he added.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 11, 2011, on page 3.