Lebanese American University


Lecture encourages students to fight corruption

Renowned expert gives a lecture on how to create a holistic approach to reducing corruption.

Audience members were rapt as Hershman delivered dispatches from his experiences fighting corruption.

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“There are many ways to be successful without taking shortcuts,” Michael Hershman, an internationally recognized expert on matters relating to transparency, accountability, governance, litigation and security, warned students: “When you follow the right path, it may take a little longer, but do it as an act of self-sacrifice.”

On June 11, the Outreach and Civic Engagement Unit, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy, hosted a lecture entitled “How to Create a Holistic Approach to Reducing Corruption - Government roles, Civil Society, Business sectors”, at LAU Beirut.

A former counter-terrorism agent with the U.S. Military Intelligence and co-founder of Transparency International, which now has 100 branches worldwide, Hershman says his early efforts to combat exploitation were met with doubt.

“Even in the World Bank, people didn’t talk about corruption. They called it ‘a governance problem’ and said creating an organization to fight it was a ‘waste of time.’”

Although the system of corruption seems immutable in Lebanon, there are several factors that might force it to change, he said. “The international businesses community has shied away from investing in Lebanon and will continue to do so if there’s no transparency, and the number of NGOs geared towards fighting the issue has swelled,” he added noting that the country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), representatives from which will review its adherence to the convention later this year.

“Changing the culture of corruption takes many years. It will not happen overnight,” said the vice chairman of Interpol’s International Group of Experts on Corruption, citing the Arab Spring uprisings. “What’s absent in Lebanon is the political will to change things, so you have got to push for it.”

Audience members were rapt as Hershman delivered dispatches from his experiences fighting corruption in countries like Malaysia and India. His ‘can do’ attitude rattled many who felt hopeless against what they see as an institution of corruption.

“Our sectarian culture is based on patron-client relationships and corruption,” said political science and international affairs student Hrag Avedanian. “Usually, post-colonial third world countries are characterized by these traits. But Hershman emphasized that it is not okay to blame it on politicians and the political system. Rather, grassroots changes are needed, and that starts from the self and from within.”

Following the lecture, student and Model Arab League trainer Alphonse Ayrout expressed a skepticism that many in the room had voiced. “In Lebanon you don’t have the culture of diplomacy. So, when you tell me that I should be diplomatic, the only question I have to ask you is ‘what is diplomacy?’ We need LAU to teach us.”

Hershman told students they can start by protesting corruption in small ways, like not paying bribes to police officers or to government officials to get papers processed. He also discouraged parents against such behavior, saying it sends a wrong message to children.

“We hope the student leaders at LAU will be able to learn something from this lecture and be more positive because they had really pessimistic opinions on fighting corruption,” said OCE Study Abroad Coordinator Dina Abdul Rahman.



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