This policy brief, written for EuroMeSCo, examines the role of technology in the fight against corruption, with a case study from Lebanon, a country long plagued by mismanagement, graft and nepotism. It particularly draws on the recent e-governance initiative IMPACT, the Inter-Ministerial Platform for Assessment Coordination and Tracking, created in 2020 in Lebanon.
IMPACT, developed under the oversight of the Central Inspection of Lebanon, has pioneered digital transformation and demonstrated a holistic approach to anti-corruption reform combining technology, institutional strengthening and civil society empowerment, as opposed to the anti-corruption efforts which have prevailed in the past, primarily focusing on poor politicised legislation and strategy setting.
The brief examines the underlying reasons of the success of this digital transformation initiative, with the objective of capturing lessons learned and deriving policy recommendations. Challenges are outlined, including deep state actors resorting to security commissions, legal appeals, administrative memos, Court of Accounts case fabrication, and politically compromised journalists to intimidate change-makers and sabotage anti-corruption programs implemented on IMPACT.
Those attempts failed and in October 2022, the team was awarded, by presidential decree, and upon the recommendation from the Minister of Public Health, the Lebanese Order of Merit (Second Grade) in recognition of its contribution to the pandemic response.
As a result of the digital innovation on IMPACT, more than 2.6 million individuals in Lebanon were vaccinated, representing around 55% of the target population. The vaccine e-certificate issued on IMPACT was recognised in the European Union’s Digital COVID Certificate system in December 2021, with Lebanon being the first Arab country to acquire this equivalence. Around 6,330 lives are estimated to have been saved as a result of the lockdown and vaccination measures, both digitised on IMPACT.
IMPACT was also leveraged to initiate the creation of an integrated National Social Registry. In response to the World Bank-funded cash assistance program, around 583,000 households applied for aid online, and more than 81,000 eligible households in extreme poverty received monthly cash assistance in a fair and transparent way, with no arbitrary, clientelist or corrupt interference. As per the World Bank’s assessment, this was digitally implemented in line with the “highest standards of transparency and efficiency,” all while ensuring “continuous and timely communication” to the public.
Additionally, more than 100 public administrations and institutions across Lebanon were digitally assessed and audited on IMPACT. IMPACT introduced ICT tools in public administrations and municipalities, and supported civil servants in using and integrating them in their daily tasks to improve and streamline processes for institutional coordination and data-sharing. It also set a precedent in the Lebanese public sector in terms of transparency and access to information by making non-confidential data available on a dedicated website.
The brief suggests that, in low-resource settings, technology and digital tools can be a game changer. Driven by a participatory and collective effort that brings together reformists across civil society, the private sector and the public sector, technology can effectively and sustainably bring about change in terms of anti-corruption reform and good governance, despite strong resistance by the conservative establishment.
Among the article’s recommendations:
- Build anti-corruption coalitions between the public sector and civil society: civil society cannot fight corruption alone; it needs the support of reformist civil servants within the state who have a thorough understanding of the public sector.
- Build anti-corruption coalitions between the public sector and the private sector: the transfer of technology from the private sector to the public sector is instrumental in this area where innovation is key.
- Leverage technology as an enabler of anti-corruption reform: the e-governance vision needs to be integrated in the system “by design,” by building processes that inherently prevent fraud, misuse and corruption attempts.
- Support oversight agencies: considering the crucial role that oversight agencies have the potential to play, in the absence of and despite political interferences and co-optation attempts, it is imperative to support them in terms of institutional strengthening and capacity building.
- Integrate real-time oversight and accountability mechanisms: “integrity by design” needs to be coupled with “real-time audit” on digital systems, which are key to preventing fraudulent and corrupt behaviour, promptly addressing it if it occurs and initiating changes of behaviour relatively quickly towards instilling integrity and performance.
- Leverage the transformative power of data and promote data-driven decision-making: a data-driven approach to decision making is crucial to ensure that decisions and policies are tailored to respond to identified needs, monitored to track impact and evaluated to inform future strategies.
- Prioritise transparency and engage the media in the coalition efforts: monitor the media, look for the serious outles and get them onboard to support the reform and counter rumours and misinformation.
- Be realistic and prepare for a response: when e-governance is undertaken, deep state actors will strike back and keep resisting until their last breath, which necessitates an adequate strategy to protect digital tools and e-governance initiatives.
- Think local: external actors, including donors, development agencies and foreign policy instruments, cannot sustainably nor effectively impose anti-corruption reforms. Rather, they must invest in supporting locally driven efforts and coalitions working toward a customised theory of change.