The municipality of Ejdebrine in Koura, North-Lebanon, was quick to support its citizens amid the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus in Lebanon.
On 24 March, the residents of Ejdebrine were surprised by a Facebook post published by their mayor, Jocelyn Al-Bayeh, who announced: “The better our psychological state, the stronger our immunity. On behalf of all its members, the municipality has paid the March 2020 power-utility bills, wishing you continued health and wellness.”
This is just one way that local authorities in Lebanon are stepping up their efforts to protect the local population from the pandemic and ensure that households can make it through economic difficulties.
In a conversation over the phone, the mayor said this decision was a municipal “duty and the least we could do towards our people”. She added: “The municipal council took the responsibility of helping the destitute and all the residents of the town, so we paid the utility bills owed to the municipal power generator for 160 subscribers, with a total value of 12 million Lebanese pounds.”
The municipality has also taken measures to stop the propagation of the virus. “We have closed the town’s access points and assigned the municipal police and volunteers the task of checking the temperature of all those coming in and out, based on the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities and the General Mobilisation Resolution issued by the Council of Ministers to counter the spread of the coronavirus.”
Local authorities are also responsible for distribution assistance, both in-kind and services, and for ensuring that families do not fall through the social security net, all in cooperation with the relevant government ministries.
Each municipality is also responsible for creating a task force that includes local officials as well as civil society and community organisations, to mitigate the pandemic through awareness and contingency measures.
In addition to foregoing payment of local electricity bills, Ejdebrine provided 172 food vouchers, with a value of 100,000 LBP each, to cover citizens’ basic needs. “The municipality has also collected the residents’ medical prescriptions and bought the necessary medicine directly” added mayor Al-Bayeh.
According to Al-Bayeh, the municipality is sterilising all public spaces and buildings on a weekly basis through the municipal health department and volunteers.
Local authorities in Lebanon have suffered from the central government’s delays in transferring revenues of the Independent Municipal Fund. In reaction to the pandemic, President Michel Aoun signed a decree to distribute the 700 billion LBP that was owed for the year 2017, providing a first step to paying what is owed and providing municipalities with an influx of cash when they need it most.
Municipalities play a vital role in curbing pandemics in coordination with the central government. The covid-19 pandemic demonstrates how municipalities are at the forefront whenever crises strike.
The pandemic also highlights the need to bring the draft law on administrative decentralisation to the front of the political agenda. Its adoption would enhance the work of local and regional authorities, facilitate citizens’ affairs, and mark a step in the direction of accountability and good governance. This would also give municipalities the tools they need to carry out their frontline efforts when facing crises such as covid-19.
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