Lebanese Students Against Corruption

Thursday, December 17, 2020

By Chantal Eddé, published in L’Orient - Le Jour on Thursday, December 17, 2020

Dod el-Fasad is an awareness-raising project carried out by Saint Joseph University of Beirut (USJ) and the Lebanese Association for Taxpayers’ Rights (Aldic).

On International Anti-Corruption Day, which falls on December 9, Saint Joseph University (USJ) and the Lebanese Association for Taxpayers’ Rights and Information (Aldic) held a press conference to launch the Dod el-Fasad (English: Against Corruption in Arabic) awareness campaign. Planned and developed by USJ’s Observatory of Civil Service and Good Governance (OFP) and Aldic, this campaign is being implemented with the financial support of the European Union (EU) and is part of the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Project (ACT), led by Expertise France, a French agency for the design and implementation of international technical cooperation projects. Dod el-Fasad aims “to increase public awareness of the fight against corruption, to educate citizens, the private sector, university and school students about the harmful effects of corruption on the proper functioning of society,” explains Naji Boulos, marketing and communication consultant at USJ and creator of the project. The long-term goal is to foster the establishment of an anti-corruption movement, guarantee transparency and access to information, eliminate the temptation of corruption for all and restore trust between Lebanese citizens and government agencies. “The ACT Project addresses issues of corruption and transparency by improving good governance in Lebanon,” added Mr. Boulos.

To achieve this, the founders of Dod el-Fasad are counting on “a widespread awareness and a change in behavior and state of mind,” according to tax lawyer Karim Daher, president of Aldic and lecturer at USJ. However, “change can only happen at the source level, through appropriate, non-partisan education that fosters a spirit of citizenship and promotes the values of integrity and transparency,” he says.

Bringing together civil society, private sectors and government officials, the campaign relies primarily on students as the main catalyst for change. Students will be both “leaders and beneficiaries” of this project for the future, according to the president of Aldic. “Young people must now change the culture of normalized crime and impunity and reject the habits, customs and traditions of bribery, influence peddling, insider trading and abuse of dominant position or office, all of which are, in fact, prohibited acts of corruption,” he said. Patricia Abi Mansour, a law student at USJ, felt it was essential to participate in the project because she considers that her duty as a citizen is to learn about corruption, a phenomenon that we experience on a daily basis, even if we are not aware of it. “It is now almost normal for us; it has become a custom. In Lebanon, whether we like it or not, we all contribute to it in one way or another, even if it is only to ensure the smooth running of our business,” she admits. Likewise, Noor Maroun, an agri-food engineering student, considers that “a large majority of us are involved in this issue, both directly and indirectly, both consciously and unconsciously”. Indeed, according to this young student, “we often tend to point the finger at the corrupt person, but we tend to forget that it takes two to tango,” she points out, expressing her willingness “to bring all this to the forefront and to make change happen.

Act to Stay

Patricia and Noor are part of a group of USJ students who have undergone extensive training to participate in the campaign. These young volunteers will be visiting prominent figures in the country to have them sign the Anti-Corruption Declaration, drafted by experts in the project. They will also contribute to the national communication campaign and will participate in demonstration walks to government buildings. There they will be meeting citizens, informing them about the project and encouraging them to sign the Anti-Corruption Declaration. “Our role as students is mainly based on raising awareness, initiating action and raising awareness about this widespread issue, its harmful effects and how to solve it,” sums up Noor Maroun. Other activities are planned, such as organizing conferences in several universities, launching an anti-corruption tutorial for the private sector and training camps for students. “These young people are really motivated. They are aware that their country is going through difficult times, they understand the challenges of the current situation and that this is the right time to make a real change. This generation is very mature, they are attached to their roots and firmly believe that there is a possibility to bring the country out of this chaos,” says Naji Boulos.

Being really fed up, these students did not hesitate to get involved in the campaign. “I am part of a majority of young people who find that their ambition is limited in this country because of the corruption that, despite all the material and human resources available in Lebanon, we find ourselves in a stifling crisis that may lead to one of the biggest brain drain in the country’s history. Fighting corruption means denouncing a system that poorly manages our assets and, even worse, that kills the genius within us,” says medical student Ronaldo Kaddoum. According to Naji Boulos, students who joined the campaign “know they have two choices: change the system or leave; they went for the first option.” Finally, this commitment to fighting corruption stems from the events that Lebanon is going through and their consequences on the population, with the aim of making “small changes first, and then achieve greater goals”, says Noor Maroun, while Patricia Abi Mansour hopes to “give people hope for a better future”. She hopes that “they will keep raising awareness and that their voices will keep echoing after the project ends”. Originally scheduled to run until the end of February 2021, the founders of Dod el-Fasad are already considering the possibility of extending it.

The Anti-Corruption Declaration can be found at www.dodelfasad.com

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