Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

Getting Creative about Saying “No!” to Corruption in Lebanon

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

CIPE partner the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) recently wrapped up a banner month in its fight against corruption in Lebanon. CIPE’s partnership with LTA dates back over ten years, and since 2012 CIPE has been supporting LTA through a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to strengthen the rule of law in Lebanon. Our approach has been not only to raise public awareness, but also to empower citizens to exercise their rights. This effort has been consolidated primarily through the Lebanese Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (LALAC) and the Lebanese Anti-Bribery Network (LABN), both of which are housed and managed by LTA.

LALAC operates centers in Beirut, Bekaa, and Nabatieh, which are staffed by attorneys and legal assistants who field complaints of corruption from citizens across Lebanon. Through LALAC, citizens can report corruption by calling the LALAC hotline, writing a letter or e-mail, or visiting one of three centers in person.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

Since CIPE’s direct support for LALAC began approximately one year ago, LALAC has achieved an unprecedented level of activity. A total of 453 complaints have been made during that time, 277 of which directly relate to corruption. In 224 cases, LALAC has provided citizens (“clients”) with legal advice on the process of vindicating their rights (short of providing representation in court) and sought resolution with cognizant public institutions.

If LALAC were a law firm, it would be doing a brisk business. But LALAC doesn’t bill its clients. It exists to empower the victims of corruption as champions for reform and to hold public officials accountable. LALAC has already worked directly with more than 15 public institutions to achieve resolution of individual cases and achieved some notable successes. Moreover, LALAC is negotiating memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with numerous public sector entities to cooperate in resolving complaints of corruption – remarkable progress in a country where openly talking about corruption was taboo not long ago.

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Assessing the Business Environment and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Egypt and Tunisia

Members of Tunisia's business community share their concerns at a March 2014 policy roundtable.

Members of Tunisia’s business community share their concerns at a March 2014 policy roundtable.

We know that North African economies urgently need economic reforms, opportunities for youth, and greater economic inclusion. But what do we know about where the opportunities lie and – just as important – what are the greatest barriers that obstruct the growth of businesses?

A few salient insights emerged from a recent survey of 131 Egyptian and 100 Tunisian entrepreneurs and business owners, which was conducted by the Center on Development, Democracy, and the Rule of Law at Stanford in cooperation with CIPE. Many of the findings will come as no surprise — the business environment and entrepreneurial ecosystems have room to improve in both countries, and political uncertainty puts a drag on business. One major, policy-relevant finding is the need to address disparities in access to opportunity.

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To Escape From Violence, Iraq Must Tackle Its Economic Problems As Well As ISIL

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Smoke billows from a key oil refinery damaged by ISIL attacks in northern Iraq in June. Repairs are expected to take more than a year.

After months of political wrangling in Baghdad and advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – also known as IS or ISIS – the Iraqi Parliament finally approved a new, more inclusive government led by a new prime minister, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, in early September.

At a recent roundtable event with Iraqi and U.S. experts, held under the Chatham House Rule, participants expressed cautious optimism over the new government. However, in the uphill battle to confront immediate threats to the country’s security, Iraq’s economic crisis has largely been ignored.

According to one participant, the fact that the new cabinet of ministers included members of Iraq’s various minority groups, and that three leading political rivals – former Prime Ministers Nouri al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi and former parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi – were given posts as vice presidents, was a good sign.

Another in the room pointed to the moderate leadership of Iraq’s new Prime Minister. Dr. Abadi, who belongs to the Shi’ite Islamic Dawa party, has a reputation as a political moderate, was educated in the UK, and has served on various Iraqi parliamentary committees since 2006, including those for finance and economics. A change in political leadership at the top, the participant argued, could rebuild trust between the central government in Baghdad and Iraq’s marginalized communities. More importantly, Abadi has pledged to foster national dialogue, political reconciliation, and decentralization.

Iraq’s economic challenges – high unemployment, poverty, rising prices, and food shortages – will only contribute further to the security crisis if they are not addressed. More than 50 percent of the goods imported into Iraq – including raw materials and food – have been blocked at the only official border crossing with Jordan, which is now under the control of ISIL. Iraq’s final budget for fiscal year 2014 remains unapproved by the Iraqi Parliament, and since the economy is dominated by the public sector – the government and state-owned enterprises employ about half of Iraq’s total workforce – the lack of government spending has ground the entire economy to a halt.

At the end of the day, ordinary citizens in Iraq are bearing the brunt of economic damages caused by the regional insecurity and the political process in Baghdad.

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Training Political Parties for Democracy

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A new Congress is inaugurated in Colombia.

Strong and well-functioning political parties are an essential component to any thriving democracy.  Political parties link citizens and their governments, represent the interests of constituents, and influence economic policymaking. In any political system, a party’s capacity to influence policy determines its success, so party platforms are instrumental for parties to participate effectively in the discussion and implementation of policies.  The party platform outlines a set of policy alternatives that the party seeks to implement.  The economic component of a party platform is crucial to create and implement policies that deliver economic growth and opportunities to people.

The ideas presented in political party’s economic platform will influence the operation of businesses and shape national economic policy. These platforms are not static documents as they continually evolve and respond to the challenges a country faces at a particular moment in time.  Successful political parties will be ready to revise and adapt the economic component of their platforms to changing economic conditions. Training political parties to not only develop solid economic platforms but to revise and respond to ever changing economic conditions is an important initiative in the efforts to support thriving market oriented democracies.

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Investing in Corporate Governance Practice in Palestine

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Program Officer Stephen Rosenlund discusses best practices in corporate governance based on CIPE’s experience in the MENA region.

On September 9-10 in Ramallah, I had the privilege of participating in a CIPE-supported training workshop on corporate governance with the leaders and technical staff of nine Palestinian chambers of commerce from the West Bank. This was an unprecedented gathering organized by our partner the Palestine Governance Institute (PGI) and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture to activate the chambers as resources for their member firms on corporate governance matters.

The two-day training workshop immersed participants in applicable legal and regulatory frameworks, the role of oversight institutions, and best practices in corporate governance at the firm level. While the different requirements applicable to publicly traded and private companies were examined, presenters emphasized the imperative for all firms regardless of size or ownership structure to adopt sound corporate governance practices. Data from numerous studies show that investing in corporate governance is a good business decision that enhances the performance and sustainability of companies. In addition, it has a positive aggregate effect on society in the form of economic development.

Moreover, well-governed companies tend to act ethically — by resisting paying bribes, for example — and therefore reduce the amount of corruption in society. A private sector that has its own house in order is also better positioned to engage in dialogue with public officials to bring about needed policy, legal, and regulatory reforms that will improve the environment for business.

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Case Studies on Democratic Reform in Yemen and Paraguay

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Democracy is a process of governance most often based on compromise, grounded in broad-based inclusiveness of differing viewpoints and the representation of diverse constituency interests. While free and fair elections are certainly one of the most recognizable hallmarks of the democratic process, a vibrant dialogue between political candidates preceding an election makes a vitally important contribution to the quality of governance.

Candidate debates serve multiple purposes. First, debates inform the electorate of the issues being considered. Second, televised debates offer an opportunity for voters to form an opinion and differentiate between candidates based on the substance of their policy positions. Third, debates promote transparency and improve the quality of democratic governance as candidates are able to directly express their views to the electorate, engage with their colleagues, and elevate certain issues over others in the national consciousness. Similarly, input from the private sector and civil society in the formulation of economic and social policy is another characteristic of a vibrant democracy as broad-based participation in the policymaking process ensures that proposed legislation represents the interests of all constituents.

CIPE possesses over thirty years of experience in strengthening democracy worldwide and promoting market oriented reforms in various country contexts. In the forthcoming publication Strategies for Policy Reform, two case studies from Paraguay and Yemen represent distinct approaches to ensuring that democracy delivers economic and political freedoms to citizens. 

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Citizens Work Together to Fight Corruption in Lebanon

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A lab technician went to the office of a public official to renew her work contract with a municipal laboratory in northern Lebanon. Several days after submitting her request, the official’s secretary invited her to come to his office. Hoping to finally receive his signature on her contract renewal, the young woman arrived at the office only to find that he wanted to get her alone behind closed doors, where he allegedly proceeded to make verbal and physical sexual advances on her.

She fled the scene and tried to see if she could get her contract renewed through another government department, which only referred her back to the same official. Having no other alternative, the young woman went back to the official’s office in January 2014, but this time she was prepared with a hidden camera to capture his behavior on video.

In the mountains of Chouf, residents of Brih and neighboring villages were displaced during the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. Their lands were subsequently occupied by other families and, rather than evacuating the lands and returning them to their original owners, the Ministry of Displaced Persons in Lebanon ran a program to offer compensation to the displaced.

But in 2014, although other villages had been paid, the former people of Brih still had not received their compensation. When they submitted a complaint to the Ministry, it claimed that the payment had been issued. But with residents presenting evidence that they had never received compensation, the question arose: where had the funds gone?

These are the types of cases that Lebanese citizens report to the Lebanese Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (LALAC), an initiative launched by the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) as part of its program with CIPE to combat corruption in Lebanon. Through LALAC, citizens can report corruption by calling the LALAC hotline, writing a letter or e-mail, or visiting one of three centers in person. LALAC provides clients with legal advice on the process of vindicating their rights (short of providing representation in court) and tracks the progress of their cases.

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