City Life-Beirut: Pity the nation that is paralysed by corruption

HAVE YOU heard the one about the former Lebanese minister who was sent three army trucks and told to fill them up with $3m (pounds 1.8m) worth of ill-gotten carpets, furniture and jewellery if he wished to avoid prosecution for accepting bribes? Or the one about the ex-minister who paid exorbitant fees to a construction company for a new highway roundabout as part of a deal to share the favours of the company manager's wife? Or about the minister with an import licence for fire extinguishers who demanded legislation forcing every motorist in Lebanon to carry a fire extinguisher?

Stewed in corruption Leban-on has always been. The Leb-anese prefer to use the word "facilitate" for "bribe". Here, you "facilitate" someone to help you, to "minimise the inconvenience", as Thomas Cromwell would say.

Local journalists were used to collecting hundred dollar bills from their favourite minister - they fought like jackals to travel on his overseas state visits - and the minister was always given favourable reviews.

But fraud had reached such epic proportions in Lebanon's post-war government that when the former army commander General Emile Lahoud became president last year - with the infinitely honest Salim al-Hoss as his prime minister - he declared war on corruption.

And those same Lebanese who had welcomed the old government of billionaire Rafiq Hariri, sat back to enjoy the embarrassment of their former masters.

"Pity the nation," Kahlil Gibran wrote, "that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again."

Well, the hootings began right away. Lorryloads of official documents were said to have been secretly removed from the Ministry of Finance. A former minister, Fouad Siniora, was said to have fled the country - the story was untrue but Lebanese journalists (yes, those same reporters who liked all those hundred dollar bills) gave it front page treatment. Security agents pounced on Ogero, the public telephone company created by Hariri, "to prevent the removal of official documents".

Then came the body-blow from Michel al-Murr, the Interior Minister and one of the only cabinet holders to keep his office. He called together parliament members and municipal leaders to announce - and this was whistle- blowing on a grand scale - that pounds 327m had disappeared from local government funds. Worse still, the money had come from the IMF. But 24 hours later, Mr Murr confessed it was all a mistake; the accounts had not been read correctly and the cash was all there. Then the hootings began.

The Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, a minister in the old Hariri cabinet and a very big hooter, claimed that the new government faced "a total loss of credibility" and that Murr should resign, pointing out - damagingly - that Murr "is the in-law of the president ... the credibility of the president is at stake."

Murr did not resign. His son is married to President Lahoud's daughter.

Lahoud hit back. Unintentional mistakes by the new government, he said, were the fault of the previous administration which was bankrolling media campaigns against the Hoss cabinet.

Hariri has indeed been busy. He not only controls the Future TV station in Lebanon but has been buying up the best journalists in town to work for a new daily paper he plans to launch in April called Mustaqbal (Future). Since he already runs the Al-Sharq radio station, the former prime minister is shaping up to become a Lebanese Rupert Murdoch.

In his administration, he and his fellow ministers did manage to close down a number of television stations - although, oddly, they didn't touch Future or a company owned by the speaker of parliament or a television station run by another of Murr's sons. Mustaqbal will surely contain quite a lot of hooting.

The civil service has meanwhile been hacked back by the corruption-seekers. Fifty top officials were told to resign, one accused of chairing 60 committees (officials can get paid according to the number of committees they run).

Now the new Finance Minister, George Corm, is saying that the Hariri government owed money to private hospitals - around pounds 123m, according to Fawzi Admi, the president of the Hospital Owners Association. More hootings.

Corm announced 1,000 extra agents to stop tax cheats. Less hootings. Fouad Siniora attacked Murr. Murr is now taking libel action against Siniora. More hootings.

But back at the bank - my own little local bank off Hamra street - there is no hooting at all. About 75 per cent of government revenues (aroundpounds 1.9bn) goes to service the public debt. Last year, the government issued pounds 1.35bn in treasury bills to cover the debt.

New rules to prevent bribery and corruption are tangling up legitimate investors in massive amounts of red tape. Highway construction and building projects have suddenly petered out.

"Paralysis," is how a visiting Lebanese banker described the place when he called me the other day.

And the message? That honest men will save Lebanon from itself? Or that a certain measure of corruption is needed to move the economy? Stand by for more hootings.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
people
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

CRM Developer (MS Dynamics 2011/2013, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: CRM MS Dynamic...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution