A grand cleansing in governance

The pandemic’s economic fallout is forcing governments to shape up quickly. First demands: accountability and transparency.

AP
A woman begs in front an ATM machine covered by iron shields in Beirut, Lebanon, May 21.

The pandemic lockdown has pushed many people to do what they should have done long ago. Clean out closets. Rethink finances. Set new goals. Now entire countries are in cleansing mode. On Thursday, for example, lawmakers in Lebanon agreed to end banking secrecy for public officials. It was a first step toward curbing corruption and the first of many reforms being forced on Lebanon by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.

Since March, more than 100 countries like Lebanon have sought a financial rescue from the International Monetary Fund – the world’s banker of last resort. The aid, however, often comes with strings attached, such as demands for transparency in banking or accountability in how public money is spent. For nations in need, the coronavirus emergency could end up being a healer of old wounds.

“History shows that crises and disasters have continually set the stage for change, often for the better,” states a new report on post-COVID-19 trends from the corruption watchdog Transparency International. In early May, a group of 97 civil society organizations sent a letter to the IMF asking it to ensure that its aid is tied to reforms. Accountability and transparency, the group said, are key “to protecting lives and livelihoods.”

That is especially true for Lebanon, a country that once had a vibrant middle class but now finds more than 50% of its people living below the poverty line. The IMF predicts Lebanon will experience one of the world’s worst recessions this year.

Hunger protests broke out in Beirut a few weeks ago, largely directed at banks and their role in secretly funneling corrupt money out of the country. In May, Lebanon finally opened talks with the IMF. Its leaders were quickly told to make reforms for “inclusive growth” and to widen the social safety net. To be given more funds for medical and educational needs, the government must first stop the flow of illicit money through banks.

Expect other countries to start enacting reforms like those in Lebanon. “We may never return to the world we left behind before COVID-19,” states the Transparency International report. Indeed, a health crisis could bring an awakening to the need for honest and open governance.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.