Angie Chelala and Joseph Abi Haidar, two students at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), joined a team of students and representatives from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Lebanon to meet with the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) Minister, his Excellency Damianos Kattar to discuss the involvement of the youth in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
“This was the first time the youth were given a platform to talk with the government concerning anti-corruption,” said Chelala. “We have been involved before with the making of the strategy, but we’ve never been given our own time before.”
The core team met with the Minister on Monday July 20, 2020, where they listened to the Minister’s explanation of how the anti-corruption strategy fits into the broader perspective of Lebanese governance, put forward their own perspective of the younger generation, and looked for common ground on how to involve the Lebanese youth in the process. One of the main points that the Minister put forward, was the fact that all states trend towards stability on a long enough timeline, and that the anti-corruption strategy was a means of hastening the process for the better.
“We love this strategy, it’s a huge step for Lebanon, and as part of the youth, we want to be involved,” said Chelala. “But at the same time, we need certain frameworks and mechanisms to be empowered, because the youth are so often marginalized from the equation. We communicated the sense of disillusionment the youth feel, the helplessness, skepticism, and most don’t know where to start.”
Both parties agreed that education on anti-corruption was an essential step to get the youth on board. “The Minister said that the youth have to be convinced of the arguments of anti-corruption,” said Chelala. “And that they need to be educated on matters of corruption and governance, which I completely agree with. I understand that anti-corruption is such a nebulous topic for many people. It almost has a negative connotation because of how it’s used in the political sphere, but it is an essential component of building a society. There’s no reset button to revive our country, we have to march on and carry the heavy load, and Lebanon is a very complex case. It’s not just about putting the culprits in prison, it’s also about the culture of impunity that corruption and bad administration produce. You cannot have functional citizenship and public administration without having anti-corruption practices in place and vice versa. We can start with anti-corruption practices to be able to create a functional state. Even if we don’t see immediate results, it’s something that is absolutely necessary for the recreation of things. We will never have a stable situation if we keep the spillovers.”
The Minister recognized the youth as a pressure group, and divided them into two sub-categories: an older group who are beginning to come into their own and can involve themselves with various initiatives, and the still younger generation who are at school and growing up. The Minister suggested a dynamic relationship between the two where the older group help foster an atmosphere of anti-corruption and good governance so that the younger generation can grow up with a framework they can implement.
“I completely agree with the idea,” said Chelala. “We will not be an effective pressure group or be able to promote an integrity atmosphere unless we have a clear idea of what looks like.”
“The Minister’s thoughts were refreshing,” said Abi Haidar. “Especially the emphasis not only on educating ourselves, but creating an understanding of good governance in those younger than us.”
The Minister concluded the meeting by saying he understood where the team was coming from, that he would take what was discussed into consideration, and committed to involving the youth in particular points in the strategy.
“I was happy with how the meeting went, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Chelala. “Lebanon is extremely far behind on all kinds of indicators, and transparency is essential, especially with the eyes of the international community on us. We, the youth, don’t want to be compartmentalized; we want to be integrated in all aspects of the strategy’s implementation, but as with everything there’s laying the groundwork first, and I think we did establish that.”
“I was also pleased with the meeting,” said Abi Haidar. “There was a lot of progress being made. At the same time, I would have liked to have greater involvement in the strategy, but hopefully next time we can go further with involving our generation in the issue.”
Chelala and Abi Haidar are wasting no time in implementing the ideas discussed, and are creating an Integrity Club at NDU, only one of three in Lebanon, which is dedicated to raising awareness and establishing the same understanding of anti-corruption put forward with the meeting with the Minister.
“There’s a wave picking up concerning the involvement of the youth particularly in terms of anti-corruption,” said Chelala. “And the integrity club is at the very heart of it! We the youth are able to do more than just stay within the limits of our demographic. We have big role to play politically, economically, and socially. We’re not only willing and able to work, we’re experts and voters in the making. I would encourage everyone not to wait. Read the anti-corruption strategy , it’s extremely comprehensive, extremely holistic, and extremely inviting for work. There are a lot of NGOs that they can involve themselves with, so get started!”