Lebanon Anti-Corruption Law
Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 Combating corruption in the public sector and establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission was published in the National Official Gazette on 14 May 2020, entering immediately into effect. Subject to parliamentary discussions since 2018, the long-awaited Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 was finally issued and is hoped to be one of the most important steps towards effectively fighting corruption in the Lebanese public sector.
Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 provides a definition of corruption for the first time in the Lebanese internal legislation and creates a first of its kind Committee, which would be receiving information about corruption from the public in order to channel it into the adequate prosecution path. Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 not only foresees the creation of the National Committee but also sets its missions and powers, in addition to the special procedure for investigating and ruling in corruption crimes.
This commentary aims to analyse Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, providing guidance on its application, challenges and role in combatting corruption in the Lebanese public sector.
According to the World Bank and the UNODC, developing countries among which includes Lebanon, lose between USD 20 to 40 billion each year through bribery, misappropriation of funds and other corrupt practices. These criminal acts drain economic development initiatives and contribute to the further impoverishment of these countries affecting all sectors such as health, education and basic needs of the population. Lebanon is going through a tragic economic and financial situation due largely to the corrupt practices that have been exhausting the country for decades. Lebanon was ranked 137 out of 180 countries in the 2019 Corruption Index and therefore urgently needs the proper legislative framework to fight corruption, in addition to implementation of effective measures. Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 is, among other laws and recommendations, part of the National Strategy on Combatting Corruption that was being prepared with its implementation plan since 2018 and was recently approved by the Council of Ministers on 12 May 2020.
Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 was being discussed in parliamentary sessions since 2018. After having been approved by the Parliament in June 2019, Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 was rejected by the President of the Lebanese Republic and returned to the Parliament to be reviewed.
As the impact of corruption on the economy was heavily felt by Lebanese people in the recent years, and as the revolution of 17 October has particularly targeted corruption, serious measures had to be taken in this regard. Amid this social environment, Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 – which was slightly modified compared to its initial project - was finally adopted.
Implications and objectives
Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 focuses on combatting corruption in the public sector only, due to the particular aggravated danger of corruption in the latter. Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 provides for creating the National Committee for combatting corruption in the public sector, defines its missions and powers and determines the procedures to be followed for investigating and ruling in corruption crimes.
Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 aims at detecting corruption, promoting integrity and transparency in the public sector and spreading the culture of combatting corruption in the Lebanese society, notably in the educational sector.
Merits and main provisions of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020
Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 defines corruption as the “utilization of the authority or the occupation in relation with the public funds in order to obtain undue profits and benefits for oneself or for others, whether in a direct or indirect way”. Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 also considers corruption acts as all the crimes against the public administration as provided for in the existing legislation such as the Criminal Code and Lebanon Law No. 154/1999 on Illicit Enrichment, in addition to the acts of corruption that are stipulated in international conventions related to corruption which Lebanon has joined.
Regarding corruption crimes (crimes against the public administration), all the legislative provisions related to the determination of these crimes and their sanctions, existing before the issuance of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, remain applicable. Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 determined three additional types of corruption crimes:
- attaining projects or permits illegally from a public agent for personal benefit;
- utilizing public funds, means or persons illegally and for personal benefit; and
- buying or selling movable or immovable properties, based on confidential information non accessible to public related to the increase or decrease of prices, in cases where this information is obtained by virtue of the person´s occupation, authority, partnership, relations, work or service and resulted in an effective profit.
Creating the National Committee for Combatting Corruption
The National Committee for Combating Corruption (referred to as the “National Committee” herein) created by virtue of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 is an administrative independent committee and an independent legal person/entity which enjoys both financial and administrative autonomy. As stated in Article 5(b) of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, the Committee members must execute and practice their mission in complete independence. However, the members of the National committee are designated by a decree from the Council of ministers for un-renewable six years.
The National Committee is composed of six members, among which include two retreated judges, a lawyer or a jurist, an accountant expert, a banking or economic expert and an expert in management.
The two judges are elected according to the same elections procedures of the Higher Council of Justice, while all the other members are chosen by the Council of Ministers following suggestions made by the correspondent syndicates or orders.
With respect to the provisions of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, the interested entities, syndicates or orders must complete their election or nomination for the first time within a three-month period from the publication of the law. By the end of this timelimit, the Council of Ministers must designate the members of the National Committee within a month. This said, if such provisions are respected, the National Committee will be constituted by September 2020.
According to Article 6 of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, the National Committee members must have high ethics and reputable transparency in addition to their academic skills and experience. They must also comply with the required conditions for nomination, such as age conditions and non-political affiliation. In addition, the members of the National Committee are prohibited from occupying any other professional positions whether in the public or private sector as stated in Article 7 of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, such as any ministerial, parliamentary, public administration or private company position.
Once designated, the National Committee members must take an oath, then prepare (within two weeks) their financial disclosure documentation as stipulated in Lebanon Law No. 154/1999, which will be published on the Committee's website. They must lift the bank secrecy off their personal accounts and those of their relatives.
The members of the National Committee enjoy an immunity against all kind of criminal proceedings and cannot be prosecuted or arrested along their mandate unless permitted by the Committee. Moreover, a member of the National Committee may not be removed from office except by virtue of decision from the Council of Ministers after a decision taken by the National Committee with a two third majority and in certain specific cases only, detailed in Article 12(a) of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020. However, the council of ministers shall not suspend or stop the operation of the National Committee or dissolute it under any circumstances, including urgent situations and wars.
The National Committee members must meet once per week at least, and whenever needed. The said committee must prepare its own internal regulations determining the detailed procedures applicable to its operation, organization and financial administration including the powers of its president, vice president and other positions.
An administrative body is dedicated to cooperating with the National Committee, which can also request the assistance of external experts. The budget of the National Committee will be determined under the general budget and must be sufficient to cover all its expenses and activities.
Defining the National Committee's mission
The main mission of the National Committee is fighting, preventing and detecting corruption as well as implementing the international conventions related to corruption that Lebanon has joined.
In addition to its principal mission, the National Committee is entrusted with special tasks according to the provisions of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 as follows:
- receiving complaints relating to corruption, investigating corruption crimes, examining them and assigning them to the relevant entities;
- monitoring corruption, its causes and costs and the efforts of combatting and preventing it in light of the legislation and adopted policies and conventions, in addition to preparing periodic reports relating to corruption and publishing them;
- providing its opinion in the legislation, decrees, decisions and policies relating to combatting and preventing corruption; and
- participating in promoting the culture of integrity and transparency in the public administration and society in general.
Moreover, the National Committee is entrusted with some special tasks by virtue of other laws such as:
- receiving and safeguarding financial disclosure documentation according to the provisions of Lebanon Law No. 154 /1999;
- protecting and rewarding whistleblowers according to the provisions of Lebanon Law No. 83/2018 on Protecting Whistleblowers;
- receiving the complaints relating to the non-application of Lebanon Law No. 28/2017 Access to Information Law, investigating such complaints and issuing the correspondent decisions; and
- receiving the complaints relating to the violation of Lebanon Law No. 28/2018 on Transparency in the Petroleum Sector, investigating such complaints and issuing the correspondent decisions, in addition to other missions stated in Article 19 of Lebanon Law No. 28/2018 such as the surveillance of the transparency of the provided information in the petroleum sector and the drafting of annual reports on the application of the mentioned law.
Determining the powers of the National committee
The National Committee is provided with special powers for each of its tasks as follows:
- Investigation and assignment: The National Committee has the power to investigate corruption crimes, whether systematically or based on the information or complaints it receives. With regards to its investigation powers, it can seek the help of the Law Police officers to collect information, and even ask the Special Investigation Committee of the seek the help of the Law Police officers to collect information, and even ask the Special Investigation Committee of the Lebanese central bank to lift the bank secrecy of certain bank accounts. It also enjoys has the right to ask the relevant entities to take all possible preventive measures such as temporary injunctions and freezing of accounts. Once the investigation process completed, the National Committee has the right to assess whether to drop the complaint/case or to assign it to the prosecution or to the adequate judicial body.
- Monitoring and evaluation: The National Committee has the power of monitoring, documenting and following up on corruption cases. It shall also evaluate the laws and decrees related to fighting and preventing corruption , as well as evaluating the risks of corruption in the public sector.
- Providing opinions: With regards to providing its opinion in the legislation relating to corruption, the National Committee will prepare annual reports relating to its activities and the adopted public policies, in addition to special reports relating to the state of corruption in Lebanon. It is also entitled to offer advisory in light of the reports that the Lebanese Government has to draft by virtue of international conventions.
- Advisory: Besides giving its opinion on the legislation relating to fighting corruption, the National Committee can suggest a code of conduct for the public officials and offer advisory for the drafting of the National strategy for combatting corruption.
- Spreading anti-corruption culture: In the event of spreading the anti-corruption culture, the National Committee will lead studies and research on the mentioned subject and publish the related outcomes and reports. It may also organize conferences and seminars in order to promote the anti-corruption culture.
Determining the special procedures for investigating and ruling in corruption crimes
Lebanon Law No. 175/2010 states expressly that when the investigation in a corruption crime is led based on the request of the National Committee, the investigation procedure can be implemented without any administrative permission. This procedural rule lifts the protection of the public agents but does not tackle however the immunity of the President, Ministers and deputies which is still guarded by the Constitution.
Moreover, the National Committee may ask any Lebanese public administration or administrative entity to provide the necessary documents for its operation. They have the obligation to respond accordingly without any delay.
Impact of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020
We are certainly not able to measure the success of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 nor its impact on corruption in the public sector at this early stage.
However, some consequences can already be pointed out.
First, the publication of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 regulated the creation of the National Committee which was long awaited. Certainly, other entities and committees existed before the issuance of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020, such as the Special Investigation Committee of the Central Bank – representing the Lebanese Financial Investigation Unit - created by virtue of Lebanon Law No. 44/2015 on Combatting Money Laundering and Terrorism. Practically, the said committee refuses to receive complaints submitted by the public, even when these complaints are related to money laundering. Besides this committee, the judicial system along with other administrative entities such as the Court of Accounts and the Central Inspection, were entrusted and were supposed to contribute in the fight against corruption but haven't been effective so far.
This said, why would we create another entity for combatting corruption?
The main advantage behind creating the National Committee for Combatting Corruption might lie in the centralization of all the complaints and issues related to corruption. The latter, dedicated fully to combatting corruption, will be able to receive all kind of corruption complaints, to protect the people who reveal corruption cases and filter them before proceeding accordingly. The National Committee has the discretion to decide to classify a complaint, to assign it to the criminal prosecutor or to submit a claim directly before courts. This may have the effect of avoiding the obstruction of Lebanese courts and other committees with unfounded claims and information as well as ensuring more efficient judicial processes.
Moreover, the issuance of Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 enabled the effective implementation of other laws related to corruption such as Lebanon Law No. 83/2018 on Protecting Whistleblowers, as well as Lebanon Law No. 28/2017 Access to Information Law and Lebanon Law No. 28/2018 on Transparency in the Petroleum Sector, as detailed above.
As previously mentioned, Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 has created the National Committee for Combatting Corruption, which has become indispensable to enable the implementation of several laws related to fight against corruption in Lebanon.
Therefore, it is a must.
In addition, the Committee can contribute successfully in the long and difficult fight Lebanon must carry out against corruption, but only if it achieves its mission professionally, independently and efficiently, and does not become another financial burden on the Lebanese State without producing any outcome.
A couple of months have passed since Lebanon Law No. 175/2020 was enacted and Lebanon has still not observed any serious initiative towards the effective creation of this Committee. It is hoped that this Committee will be created within legal timeframes and will start contributing effectively in the fight against corruption which the country desperately needs.
All the above said, this Commission, or any other initiative or body, will not be able to operate and thrive without a clear political will to fight corruption in the country, and without an independent judiciary.