Liliane Assaf: Dumb goldfish, swimming in a sea of corruption

Published on:January 27, 2012
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Driving back home after spending a peaceful Sunday with my brothers, their families and their lovely children, I had a huge smile on my face and thought what would make this day complete is sitting in a coffee shop/pub in Hamra with a friend, chilling to some good music, having a glass of white wine and finishing up some work; to just enjoy being.

When I called to tell my friend about my impeccable plan, she replied that she’s with her family watching the news and following up on what’s happening. I glanced at the clock on my car’s dashboard and saw it was still 7:18pm: not news time.
“Why are you watching the news now? What happened?” I knew a crisis happened before she even said anything.
“A building that collapsed in Fassouh, death toll is 1 so far and many are still under the rubble. Red cross is trying to rescue them.”
 
Glued in front of Tweetdeck —where I get all my breaking news—, I kept seeing tweet after tweet about people reporting the number of survivors, people criticizing the politicians for arriving to the scene with 5 cars whereas the area is tight, people urging others to donate blood if they’re nearby… But there is one tweet in specific that caught my attention:
“Just another reason why the Lebanese law of old rents should be changed.”
Soon after, many people were joining in by tweeting and blogging about it. Some people still pay very cheap monthly rent in certain areas of Lebanon, many of them around $200 per year; $1 can barely get you two chocolate bars today
….The apartment block is known to be in an area of mainly old buildings. It included 10 apartments each with a monthly rent of LL25,000… [Daily Star]
With an average of 250,000LL coming in from tenants, building owners simply do not have the income to hire engineers to inspect the foundation and structural integrity of their building. Raise the spotlight of blame to the next level and we find that auditors responsible for ensuring building owners carry out the necessary inspections and maintenance reports are simply not doing their job.
If we go ahead and raise the source of the problem up another level we realize that the government is not especially keen on hiring those auditors. Why isn’t the government more focused on the safety of its citizens? Who is monitoring what? Who is making sure things are on track? Who…? Who…? Who…? The list of duties that are not being carried out by our government goes on.
It’s not news that our country is flavored with bribes, corruption, “ma7soubiyet”, connections (wasta), politically customized media outlets, political parties controlling entities (a la Risk game), etc… But the degree it has attained has become utterly and unimaginably ridiculous in the sense where the system will no longer hold, just like stacking a banana on an apple on an avocado on a peanut: It can’t possibly remain standing. A fruit salad is not a country.
Almost everyone in Lebanon has taken advantage of the poorly enforced legal system at one time or another. I am surprised Hollywood isn’t based in Lebanon where a real mafia lies (our politico-sectarian leaders, warlords – who we still elect time after time, business men turning ministers, or vice versa).
Taxes are deducted from our salaries, we pay taxes on all items we buy whether luxuries or necessities, we pay our annual fees to the municipalities and we pay our car’s mécanique. Nevertheless we still have potholes on our roads so deep that I’ve seen people fall in and never to return. Who knows, perhaps they’re portals to another universe; Someone should check with Mariam Nour.
There is not enough space to write and give examples on how screwed up our system is, but with the space I have left, I want to remind you dear reader that we Lebanese still elect almost the same people, those people who were responsible for the civil war and well many other wars. We do it willingly, either because it gives us “access” to take advantage of the system for the next 4 years, or because it is our only way to survive because that politician is carrying us by our necks if we don’t do as he says.
Today, I write on LBCblogs, in hope that I reach as many people as I can. The solution is not as hard and impossible as everyone thinks it is. We simply have to say no, and vote for other people. What other people you wonder? A coalition of educated, ethical, won’t-let-my-friend-get-away-with-a-ticket and modern individuals who will work together on running for 2013 elections by presenting a well thought of program to improve Lebanon one ministry after another.
It’s quite true that many outdated laws restrict progess, that the system is too complicated and deeply infiltrated by incompetent employees who are just there because they know an evil politician. Our system is like a dumb goldfish swimming in a sea of corruption where politicians have relieved themselves to the extent that the fish can never be smart again and the water cannot be cleansed, it has to be changed.
Even after 31 years, I remain optimistic that if we gather smart members (instead of the dumb fish) in several groups working on several fronts with the right members of parliament representing them, we’ll be able to draw a long term plan to improve this country. Of course as impatient as Lebanese get, they will expect immediate results. This simply isn’t realistic. It can’t happen, it won’t happen. It will take two decades at least to create a better Lebanon; nonetheless even those two decades won’t be enough if we don’t start at it now.
If we keep playing around with the same power-thirsty warlords and the same moves on our lame chessboard we will keep having the same results. It is time to change the players and try something new. I look forward to ending corruption, having round-the-clock electricity and driving on safe roads so I can enjoy my country. I look forward to that peaceful Sunday I dreamed of.
Liliane Assaf is a blogger and LBCblogs contributor. You can find her on Twitter here or visit her blog.

 

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