Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

Citizens Work Together to Fight Corruption in Lebanon

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A lab technician went to the office of a public official to renew her work contract with a municipal laboratory in northern Lebanon. Several days after submitting her request, the official’s secretary invited her to come to his office. Hoping to finally receive his signature on her contract renewal, the young woman arrived at the office only to find that he wanted to get her alone behind closed doors, where he allegedly proceeded to make verbal and physical sexual advances on her.

She fled the scene and tried to see if she could get her contract renewed through another government department, which only referred her back to the same official. Having no other alternative, the young woman went back to the official’s office in January 2014, but this time she was prepared with a hidden camera to capture his behavior on video.

In the mountains of Chouf, residents of Brih and neighboring villages were displaced during the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. Their lands were subsequently occupied by other families and, rather than evacuating the lands and returning them to their original owners, the Ministry of Displaced Persons in Lebanon ran a program to offer compensation to the displaced.

But in 2014, although other villages had been paid, the former people of Brih still had not received their compensation. When they submitted a complaint to the Ministry, it claimed that the payment had been issued. But with residents presenting evidence that they had never received compensation, the question arose: where had the funds gone?

These are the types of cases that Lebanese citizens report to the Lebanese Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (LALAC), an initiative launched by the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) as part of its program with CIPE to combat corruption in Lebanon. Through LALAC, citizens can report corruption by calling the LALAC hotline, writing a letter or e-mail, or visiting one of three centers in person. LALAC provides clients with legal advice on the process of vindicating their rights (short of providing representation in court) and tracks the progress of their cases.

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The Gathering

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With all due respect to CIPE’s other partners, surely the coolest workspace in the CIPE family today is located in Saida, Lebanon. The innovative space, called El Moltaqa (“The Gathering”), is the new home of the Development of People and Nature Association (DPNA). El Moltaqa is not merely an office for DPNA’s dedicated staff, it is a focal point for civic engagement in the community.

In its first decade of existence, DPNA has become a highly-respected convening authority for a range of local stakeholders from the private sector, civil society, public officials from the local and national levels, young activists, and others representing the diverse fabric of Lebanese society.

Unfortunately, that fabric is frayed due to a highly volatile geopolitical situation, which makes a place like El Moltaqa all the more vital. It is a sanctuary where people from every religion, sect, ethnicity, and political persuasion can feel safe. Through a rich array of cultural and educational offerings, El Moltaqa provides the community with a place to engage respectfully in democratic dialogue and debate about the most important issues of the day.

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Improving the Business Environment in Afghanistan, One Province at a Time

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More than 400 business leaders, including 30 women, met in in Karzai Hall in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on June 4 to discuss ways of improving the business environment Nangarhar Province. Organized by CIPE and led by the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry‘s Nangarhar chapter and a coalition of 12 local business associations, the participants discussed the barriers and challenges to doing business in the province and identified policy solutions to support business growth.

The event is part of a CIPE supported Provincial Business Agenda (PBA) program. The PBA is a grassroots effort to bring the local business community together to develop a list of policy priorities to improve the business climate in the province.

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Repairing a Shattered Syrian Economy in the Midst of War

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The common thread that unites all of CIPE’s partners around the world is their dedication to the principles of democracy rooted in private enterprise and free market economics. In all other respects, their diversity is remarkable and represents one of CIPE’s greatest sources of strength.

Ranging from the smallest of local business associations and youth groups to large chambers of commerce and some of the world’s most respected think tanks, our partners all work hard to advance freedom and secure new opportunity for their fellow citizens. They also operate under circumstances as varied and complex as the global geo-political landscape itself. Some of our partners work in conflict environments that require a particular blend of courage and creativity in order to advance their democratic objectives.

The current catastrophe in Syria certainly presents unique challenges to CIPE’s partner the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), an independent think tank formed in 2012 by business people from across Syria to inform the public policies that will be needed for the country to emerge from conflict and transition to democracy. It may sound starry-eyed to speak of peace and democracy with the war now in its fourth year, at a cost of more than 160,000 lives, over 2.8 million refugees, $143.8 billion in economic losses (as of the end of 2013), three-quarters of the population living in poverty, and incalculable social trauma.

However, SEF and the moderate business community it represents see no other alternative. Independent small and medium business people from across the country, representing the mosaic of religions and ethnicities for which Syria has long been renowned, are a unifying force with the potential to repair and rebuild a now shattered society.

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Four Key Ingredients for Accountable Decentralized Government in Lebanon

Under the new law, each village would have representation proportional to its size.

Under the new law, each village would have representation proportional to its size.

Sami Atallah is the Executive Director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a CIPE partner. This post also appeared on LCPS’s Featured Analysis Section.

Lebanon’s new decentralization draft law may not solve all the country’s ills but, if implemented, could provide the answer to many of the country’s development challenges. The importance of the draft law lies in its ability to strengthen decentralization by transforming the Qadas, the administrative districts, into key developmental actors.

Instead of being headed by central government appointed Qaimmaqams (governor), Qadas will now have a council directly elected by the people. In addition, the Qadas will be endowed with a mandate to provide a wide range of services as well as the fiscal resources to do so.

The Qadas will now be responsible for developing their regions. This will include launching development projects in the sectors of infrastructure, transportation, environment, and tourism, among others. Many of these functions have been re-assigned from the central government because they are more compatible with the geographical area of the Qadas, and because the latter can better realize the economies of scale in the provision of services.

This does not mean that the central government becomes irrelevant, but that it merely shares these functions with other tiers of government. The central government’s role is now focused on policy making and regulation, while regional administrations take charge of service delivery.

The expanded mandate proposed for regional administrations is unworkable if it is not complemented with the required fiscal resources. Since several of the central government functions have been transferred to the Qada, it is natural that a portion of central government resources are transferred to the Qada level as well. To address this, the draft law has re-allocated property tax, a portion of the income tax, real estate registration fees, and other taxes and fees to the Qada in a way that provides the latter with an appropriate level of fiscal resources and autonomy.

The draft law goes further to provide a new source of revenues for the Qada, mainly the Decentralization Fund which replaces the Independent Municipal Fund. This created fund enjoys a new governance structure, more resources and equitable distributional criteria to both Qadas and municipalities.

Qadas with wide mandates and fiscal resources are a necessary but not sufficient criterion for delivering effective development. A key condition is political accountability. The draft law attempts to put in place the appropriate incentives and constraints in order to shape the behavior of local politicians and compel them to deliver more and better services. To this end, the main ingredients of the draft law that aim to achieve political accountability are as follows:

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Enriching the Future: Creating Opportunities for Youth in the Middle East

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Through high-level discussions of democracy, development, and free trade, the 2014 Doha Forum held from May 12 to 14 sought to find solutions to key economic challenges facing the Middle East through international collaboration and entrepreneurship. Among those key challenges is job creation.

Co-hosted by Qatar and UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development, the theme of this year’s forum was “Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future.” CIPE’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Abdulwahab Alkebsi and a group of CIPE’s partners participated in the forum.

With 30 percent of the Middle East’s population between the ages of 15 and 29, creating employment opportunities for young people remains a top economic priority for the region. CIPE and its partner organizations highlighted the many ways in which the private sector can address this challenge and enrich the Middle East’s economic future.

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Addressing the 98 Percent: Supporting Reform Among Family Firms in the Palestinian Territories

pgi-cgMore than 98 percent of commercial entities in Palestine are not covered by existing corporate governance codes, which apply to companies listed on the Palestine Stock Exchange and commercial banks. Most of these are structured as family firms — whether in ownership or management — which creates special difficulties for corporate governance.

To address the thousands of family firms that form the heart and soul of the Palestinian private sector, CIPE partner the Palestine Governance Institute (PGI) recently published a Corporate Governance Manual for Family Firms (available in Arabic and English) with the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.

This seminal publication — the first of its kind in Palestine — was informed by extensive consultations with local experts, family firms themselves, and other stakeholders including lawyers and academics.

PGI engaged in extensive outreach to the business community in developing these guidelines, including conducting a baseline assessment through interviews with over 100 owners and managers of family firms across the West Bank and Gaza.

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