Decentralisation is high on Lebanon’s political agenda, confirmed as a priority by President Aoun in October 2016. The country is faced with more than one million Syrian refugees and the delivery of public services, particularly garbage collection and public safety, fall short of citizens’ expectations. Research revealed that local authorities are filling some of the gaps, often with the help of the local community, that are left by the dysfunctions of the national government. But local authorities need more support, less red tape and better guidance from the central government.
These were key conclusions of the National Conference held by DRI on 2 December 2017 in Beirut with 176 participants from the government, academia, civil society and the media, coming from different parts of the country. DRI presented the work of its project ‘An Agenda for Decentralisation – Local Governance in Lebanon’ and the consortium of Lebanese organisations that campaign under the banner of Al-Idara bi-Mahalla (“the Administration in the Right Place”). Based on a survey of 66% of the municipal unions, DRI examined the challenges of public service provision in terms of solid waste management, public safety and participatory governance at the local level, as a first step towards a comprehensive decentralisation reform.
Discussions at the conference were centred on weaknesses resulting from the proliferation of local authorities in Lebanon and their structural weaknesses. The question raised was: Would an additional decentralised council at the regional level, as foreseen in the 2014 Administrative Decentralisation Bill (and currently discussed in Parliament), improve service delivery?
DRI’s André Sleiman indicated that central government institutions are facing major political, financial and organisational challenges limiting their capacity of intervention, so local authorities stepped forward. But creating an additional tier of government at the regional level will not solve the issue if the shortcomings observed at the municipal and the central government levels are not addressed. Instead, he argued, an enabling framework for local governance is needed, in which municipalities and central government authorities are empowered.
Professor Däubler-Gmelin, the former Minister of Justice of Germany, highlighted the importance of the principle of subsidiarity, which posits that each public authority should only perform the tasks which cannot be carried out at a lower level. Pointing out that the 2014 Bill omits the municipal level, Däubler-Gmelin recommended that a strong decentralisation at the regional level should stand on strong municipal grounds.
Mr. Saleh Abou Mansour, President of the Jabal El-Sheikh Union of Municipalities, gave a hands-on presentation on the resourcefulness of some municipal unions and highlighted the potential of youth and local volunteer networks to carry out a wide array of activities and projects with little-to-no cost.
Concluding the discussion, Advisor to the Minister of the Interior and Municipalities Khalil Gebara commended DRI’s report as a reliable and empirical basis to build cooperation dialogue between MOIM and local authorities.
During the conference, DRI screened a documentary compiling testimonials of policy-makers and MPs who have accompanied the various decentralisation bills since the restoration of civil peace in 1990.
Currently, while attention is being redirected towards parliamentary elections (scheduled to be held in May 2018), advocating for a comprehensive decentralisation reform from the bottom up is key, as well as expanding the scope of empirical scrutiny to include the complementary role of municipalities and central government authorities in public service delivery.
Under this project, financed by the German Foreign Office, DRI will also explore the roles and responsibilities of the different state bodies in service provision, at the central and local levels.
Image 1: President of Jabal El-Sheikh Union of Municipalities Saleh Abou Mansour (left) and former Federal Minister of Justice Herta Däubler-Gmelin (right)
Image 2: (From left to right) DRI Lebanon Country Representative André Sleiman, Saleh Abou Mansour, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, MOIM Advisor Khalil Gebara
Image 3: DRI Lebanon Team welcomes Conference Participants
Image 4: The National Conference was attended by 176 participants from various backgrounds and regions of Lebanon
Image 5: Attendees included CSO representatives, activists, scholars, elected local leaders and donor organisations.