Lebanon: Money talks as new evidence points to corruption
In 2011, the Lebanese government made financial contributions of 1.47 trillion Lebanese liras (LL) ($1 billion) to ministries, public institutions, national councils and funds. These allocations are the single most important source of funding for NGOs, regional projects, clubs, festivals and other entities that serve as a front for political activity.
Recently, the Audit Bureau completed its audit of the contributions paid in 2011. The sheer size of the amounts involved reveals a lot. Of the LL1.47 trillion spent, LL506.7 billion went to national councils, funds and a number of public institutions, while the rest was earmarked for projects or activities funded by the ministries.
Of the state funds that have been given money by the government, the High Relief Committee (HRC) had the lion’s share, receiving LL12.5 billion, compared to LL500 million that went to the Council of the South. Similarly, the Ministry of Social Affairs was awarded a major part of the contributions, receiving LL68 billion.
The Ministry of Tourism came second, disbursing LL3.5 billion of the contributions it received in 2011, followed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which spent LL1.9 billion, and the Ministry of Culture, which spent up to LL1.4 billion.
These payouts raise many questions about whether some ministries serve any real purpose other than channeling political moneyConcerning joint projects, the Lebanese government contributed LL8.7 billion to the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) alone.
A legal expert Al-Akhbar spoke to said that the contributions in question represent only a fraction of the total amount of money that the ministries are given, and which they subsequently use to finance various activities that ultimately benefit the cronies of certain politicians and groups.
These payouts also raise many questions about whether some ministries serve any real purpose other than channeling political money, and whether it would be better instead to replace them with smaller departments that can perform the same functions at a lower cost to the taxpayer.
In addition, there are hundreds of other contributions that are not covered by the Bureau’s audits, and which pass without its oversight since they are under LL15 million. These only require the signatures of the relevant minister and the finance minister to be approved.
Spending by the social affairs ministry was disproportionate in the extreme, while the youth and sports ministry paid out relatively smaller amounts to a large number of people and entities. The same applies to the tourism ministry and the culture ministry, whose handouts seem to go all the way to Paris.
Beginning with the PM’s office, the contributions the latter made to councils and funds in 2011 stood at LL507 billion. A fraction of this amount goes towards paying salaries and wages and the public services carried out by some funds.
The fact that the PM’s office granted the National Commission for Women LL226 million and LL12 billion to the HRC perhaps was done out of consideration for the upcoming elections. Indeed, the HRC invests money granted to the Lebanese state in treasury bonds and projects, in violation of the law that established this body.
Things are even clearer at the social affairs ministry, which, in addition to the public works ministry, is handled by a minister from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary alliance. The public works ministry is working day and night to complete politically-motivated road repairs in the Chouf district [Jumblatt’s stronghold], and other regions where different political allies are active.
A large segment of these organizations and activities are led or managed indirectly by spouses and relatives of political leadersThe social affairs ministry seems to be funding so-called development projects, yet no one knows the nature of these projects or under which plan or framework they are being undertaken. Projects worth a total of LL440 million were thus approved for villages in Aley, Hasbaya, the Chouf, Rashaya al-Wadi and Kfertay. Amchit also received LL50 million, while Bebnine in the Akkar province received LL100 million.
The rest of the LL68.3 billion distributed by the Ministry of Social Affairs went for provisions for NGOs, social welfare and joint contracts, though a large segment of these organizations and activities are led or managed indirectly by spouses and relatives of political leaders, as well as their associates.
Things are only superficially different at the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Out of 38 contributions, with a tally of LL1.9 billion, only three went to cover salaries and wages, and subscriptions to Olympic associations. The rest was distributed among federations, clubs and associations.
In addition to clubs from South Lebanon, Batroun, Jbeil and Tripoli also received generous shares. Clubs that received the ministry’s cash included the Tibnin Sports Club, the Amchit Sports Club, the Amel Youth Association in Mseileh, and the Youth Club in Jbeil.
The Ministry of Tourism had its own exploits too, in this regard. Many contributions are usually funneled through this department to the festival-organizing committees, which are openly run by the associates of a few politicians.
In 2011, the tourism ministry paid out allocations of LL3.57 billion, broken down as follows: LL 747 million to the Sour Festival Committee; LL950 to the Beiteddine Festival Committee; and LL600 million to the Jbeil Festival Committee. Money also went to a number of associations in Zgharta, Tripoli and Batroun, as well as associations such as the Society for the Protection of Environmental Sites and the Friends of the City association, to name but a few.
The Ministry of Culture also engaged in similar politically-motivated spending, awarding LL600 million to the committee for Reading and Cultural Activity Centers (CLAC), LL90 million to the Lebanese House in Paris, and LL585 million to the National Committee. The International Centre for Human Sciences in Jbeil also received LL200 million from the ministry.
Meanwhile, LL1.261 billion of the Ministry of Education’s money went to nine joint projects with a number of Lebanese charities and the tourism ministry.
Contributions such as these may not be paid out unless they have been properly allocated in the government budget.The education ministry also made contributions worth LL162 million to seven schools, including Armenian schools and others in South Lebanon, and paid LL12.6 billion to public school funds and LL29.86 million to free schools.
Many contributions of this kind can be classed as being politically or electorally motivated.
Not all of this spending can be said to be illegal. Yet according to former finance minister Elias Saba, contributions such as these may not be paid out unless they have been properly allocated in the government budget.
Saba says, “Contributions must be based on budget allocations before being disbursed, that is to say, they need approval and legislation by parliament. The fact that this did not happen in the past years raises many questions about the legality of the spending.”
The former minister added, “Since 2005, the constitution, the law, and all norms and financial rules have each been disregarded.”