Lebanon’s McKinsey Report: corruption, for a price of a sandal

East and West: Putting Our Best Foot Forward
January 17, 2019
Education, Leadership, and Mission: A Critical View in a Critical Age
January 31, 2019

by Robert Hamd

In 2017, the Lebanese government brought in the international consultancy firm, McKinsey, to analyze Lebanon’s public and private sectors. On Wednesday, January 2, the Ministry of Economy released the report, describing what they saw as Lebanon’s crippling political stalemate in government. The 1,200-page report warns that the country is facing economic collapse, unhindered corruption and needs a wake-up call to improve transparency to tackle its problems.[1]

Within the report, shocking information is revealed that should send all peoples of faith in Lebanon straight to their political leaders demanding answers and seeking justice. For example, the report cites Lebanon’s residents spend 50 percent more time than needed on congested roads, meaning lost income and lost productivity. Only 15% of the roads are in good condition. It ranks Lebanon’s infrastructure 113th out of 137 countries and found it to have the world’s fourth-worst quality of electricity, behind Haiti, Nigeria, and Yemen.

The report called attention to the fact that Lebanon’s perceived corruption increased by 26 points since 2012, rising to 146 out of 180.[2]  What these numbers suggest is what all Lebanese know: corruption, bribery, and nepotism are accepted practices, all of which eventually rob us all of our country’s future. In other words, corruption is tantamount to looting and destroying us all. These practices become what is known as crony capitalism, creating an elite wealthy class with an ever-widening impoverished class and vanishing middle class. What’s more, the McKinsey Report cites corruption as at the center of Lebanon’s massive budget deficit, with the debt likely to climb in 2019.

For Christians, the Bible has much to say against corruption, economic exploitation, and injustices, recognizing that we all live in a community dependent on one another. The Bible teaches that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1: 26-27), and therefore have by their very existence value, worth, and dignity. For Christians, the dignity of all peoples is our concern; we are all created in God’s image and must honor and respect all.
Whether we are lay leaders, pastors, theologians, teachers, business people, employees, or students, we all need to hear what the Bible has to say and take serious stock of our indifference to the problems we’ve inherited — we need to demand more from ourselves, our leaders, our churches, and our society as a whole. Otherwise, we are passing off the same pervasive quid pro quo for someone else to tackle.

The prophet Amos in the Old Testament captures what I believe all peoples living in the Middle East desire, “[l]et justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (5:24).
Amos’ prophetic career came during the time of the final years of the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.). It was a time not unlike today, during the reign of Jeroboam II, where materialism and selfishness was the rule of their day. He denounces the elites who made their wealth on the backs of the poor. Amos writes:

“Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
saying,
“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.” (8: 4-6)

Amos’ prophetic speech accuses the country of economic abuse that hurts the whole society.  Like Amos, Isaiah (740-701 BC) also confronts the ruling elites and rebukes their economic practices for being “greedy for presents and eager for bribes, show[ing] no justice to the orphan, and the widow’s never reach[ing] them (Is. 1:23). Moreover, in the Gospels in the New Testament, we read how Jesus born in a stable in Bethlehem, takes up residence in Galilee, and ultimately stands with the poor and the excluded. Jesus proclaims a new kind of Kingdom, when He quotes Isaiah and focuses on the least, the outsider, and the poor.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,” (Luke 4:18).

Furthermore, many of the early church fathers took on similar concerns for justice, challenging their society to remind us all of the idolatrous dangers of wealth. For example, Basil the Great (ca. 330-379) was bishop of Caesarea in Asia Minor. He was known for using his inheritance to provide food for starving citizens. He writes “because of wealth, relatives act as if they do not know their family of origin; brothers look upon each other with murderous intent; because of wealth, deserts breed murderers; the seas, pirates; the cities, corrupt professionals.” [3] The writings of the early church fathers understand that we live in a fallen and messy world; nevertheless, they had a vision for the church to be involved and Christians to be committed to justice.

Father Daniel Groody, professor of theology at Notre Dame University, echoes the same sentiment handed down by the church fathers. Groody writes, “[b]ecause riches–like other good things in our lives–have an almost magnetic capacity to attract self-centered motives, they can become idolatrous and can work against the creative purposes…”[4] We all need to take special interest when economic data is released that speaks to the grim realities that so many poor face on daily basis.

The McKinsey Report indeed points out that Lebanon’s economic troubles have caused considerable setbacks and hurt the whole society. Lebanon has a steep road ahead to get out of their quagmire. However, it wasn’t always that way. Beirut earned the reputation of the Paris of the Middle East. There was merit to this title since the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 1975, at the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War, provided a standard of living on par with some European countries such as Spain, Ireland, and Portugal. We need vision to make our country work for all.

What can we take away from the McKinsey Report? I commend the courage of Mr. Raed Khoury, Economy Minister, for publishing the McKinsey Report. I’m sure it was not an easy decision, but this encourages me because there are men and women in crucial places seeking to do good work. No doubt, the report will generate much conversation among all peoples in Lebanon about our current state of affairs, and hopefully will beg the question among all faiths about justice, transparency, and an accountable economy that serves all.
The widening gap between rich and poor continues at an alarming pace.  We need an economy that works for the whole country and not for the wealthiest 1%. Crony capitalism harms all. It even has the potential to crash an economy and chain a country with incomprehensible debt. We need better. According to political economist Melani Melani Cammett, data bears out that good governance — a combination of “political, social, and economic and institutional factors […] affects the behavior of organizations and individuals and influence their performance.”[5]  In other words, we all can change our current state of affairs if we are committed to transparency, accountability, the rule of law, and participation for all.

As a Christian, pastor, educator, and NGO leader, I believe we need to consistently allow the prophetic texts to speak to us afresh. We need to get reacquainted with the early church fathers that all addressed justice, mercy, and caring for the most vulnerable in our society. Jesus said, “[b]y this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). We can show our love for God by working on behalf of all peoples, making sure that we’re doing our part for the health of our community, caring for all in the name of Christ.


[1] “Lebanon Economic Vision,” https://www.economy.gov.lb/media/11893/20181022-1228full-report-en.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1D3dyuF33kZKS07CWomIljvLPFaOpA4Rb213Ve3PDbhcHF6ijsdcqRIQA (accessed January 4, 2019).

[2] “Lebanon Economic Vision,” (p. 11) statistics gathered from the 2017 Corruption Perception Index.

[3] Basil, Homily against the Rich, PG 31: 297.

[4] Daniel G. Groody, Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice, Navigating the Path of Peace (New York: Orbis, 2007), 75.

[5] Melani Cammett et al., A Political Economy of The Middle East, (New York: Routledge, 2015, 4th edition), 77.

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