This week, a terrible tragedy befell Lebanon when an explosion hit the port area of its capital city, Beirut. The blast has killed at least 154 people, injured close to 5,000 and left 300,000 people homeless. 

Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and the people of Beirut.

Although investigations are still underway, it has been stated that the blast was caused by several thousand tonnes of ammonium nitrate – a dual-use fertiliser and explosive that is reportedly banned in Lebanon but had been stored in a warehouse at the Beirut port since 2013.

Why was explosive material stored without proper safety measures for over six years in a densely populated city?

Lebanese authorities have so far made conflicting statements. The public and journalists suspect that negligence, corruption and incompetence by the Lebanese bureaucracy are behind this avoidable disaster.

Together with Transparency International in Lebanon, we are calling for a thorough probe that would reveal to what extent corruption was to blame for the disaster.

Year after year, Lebanon has received low scores on our Corruption Perceptions Index which measures public sector corruption.

Our Global Corruption Barometer – Middle East and North Africa 2019 showed that Lebanon now has the highest overall bribery rate in the region, at 41 per cent. Most people in Lebanon – 87 per cent – also think their government is doing a bad job at fighting corruption.

There is also evidence of this in the streets. Since October 2019, Lebanon has seen a series of massive protests against corruption and ineffective governance. In the wake of this week’s tragedy, they are out on the streets again.

And we must stand with them not just in solidarity but also in rightful anger.

Transparency International will continue to demand full transparency and full accountability. We will also remain vigilant to ensure that this tragedy transforms the country – for the better.

The statement

The Board and staff of the Lebanese Transparency Association, supported by the Transparency International movement worldwide, wish to express our shock and deep sadness at the devastation and loss of life caused by the explosion in Lebanon’s capital city, Beirut.

In these terrible circumstances, our first priority is to help our fellow citizens and to meet the immediate needs of the many thousands who have lost loved ones, been injured or made homeless by this catastrophe.

It is critical that the causes of this disaster are identified in an independent and transparent way as soon as possible. Once the facts have been established, those found responsible must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

While the circumstances behind the explosion remain unclear, early indications suggest it is the result of negligence and systemic failures leading to thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate – which authorities believe to have triggered the explosion – to be stored without safety measures in a warehouse in Beirut’s port for six years.

While we support the establishment of a commission of inquiry that is time-bound (5 days as announced by the government), we stress on the following principles:

  • The inquiry must be conducted openly and transparently; 
  • The inquiry must include independent external observers and technical experts;
  • The inquiry should have far-reaching powers to investigate both the causes of the explosion, and establish legal, administrative and criminal responsibilities as well as accountabilities.

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