There is more than one thing that brings together Lebanese municipalities up and down the country in this state of constant struggle, from financial constraints to bureaucratic inefficiencies and the national government’s infringement on local authorities’ rights.
For two years now, DRI has been pressing on with its mission to convene municipal union leaders to forge a national association that champions the interests of local authorities, defends their rights, and advocates as a united voice as it takes on the national government.
Five representatives of municipal unions from Jezzine, Higher Jurd – Bhamdoun, Higher Chouf, Jabal El-Sheikh, and Juma – Akkar came together in Beirut on 6 December to discuss the association’s draft bylaws to reflect rounds of participant feedback. While each had their own unique regional contexts, the municipal representatives highlighted their shared concerns, challenges, and goals in what was a lively exchange about the national association’s structure, aims, and guidelines. DRI’s Country Representative, André Sleiman, moderated the bylaws review process.
Kamal Shayya, mayor of Sawfar and head of the Higher Jurd municipal union, said his municipality faced financial struggles with unpaid dues and legal challenges, notably ministerial circulars that undermine municipal laws at the local level. “Municipal officials and mayors are closer to their constituents and the local decision-making process than the central government [is], and they ought to exercise their decentralised authority to the fullest extent without setbacks,” added Shayya.
Khalil Harfouche, head of Jezzine’s municipal union, agreed that collective advocacy has proven effective in pressuring the central government to take action. He said, “During the 2015 waste management crisis, municipalities banded together in expressing their common concern with the possible side effects of accumulating waste on citizens’ health and wellbeing, which resulted in a timely and effective response to the issue by the concerned authorities.”
DRI continues to play a fundamental role in creating an environment that enables unions to take initiative. Yet, despite the broad consensus over the association’s importance, political pushbacks sought to impede ongoing efforts for a united front that gives greater voice to mayors. DRI hopes to garner the support of a significant number of municipal representatives through continued advocacy and lobbying.
Georges Haddad, president of Jabal El Cheikh’s municipal union, spoke to this political pushback, saying that “the engagement of the association’s municipal officials is key to forming a national consensus over an effective action plan. Municipalities should promote further communication on common issues”.
As the National Municipal Association continues to rally local decision-makers over common challenges and shared goals, it is time that municipalities have united around collective action and a joint roadmap for the shared good of their communities.