Tag Archives: Lebanon

To Benefit from Energy Resources, Lebanon Needs Better Institutions, Not Just Greater Transparency

A map showing the offshore areas being opened to oil and gas exploration. The auctions have been repeatedly delayed.

A map showing the offshore areas being opened to oil and gas exploration. The auctions have been repeatedly delayed. (Photo: Deloitte)

By Sami Atallah

A paradox confronts countries endowed with oil and gas resources. Despite their riches, these countries tend to grow slower in the long term, have higher income inequality, be more corrupt and even become authoritarian. This, of course is not the fate of all such countries — many have managed to turn the oil curse into a blessing. Those that did had two things going for them: a high level of human capital and good institutions that upheld checks and balances on power.

Although Lebanon is well endowed with human capital, its institutions are generally weak. The Taef agreement redistributed power more equally across the three key institutions — the presidency, the parliament and the prime ministership — that are associated with the three dominant sects, and in many ways, undermined the political system.

For one, the executive authority became diffused to an extent that it is no longer obvious who is in charge. The members of the parliament seem less interested in legislating and holding executive authority accountable and more interested in providing services to constituents. The political parties have mastered the game of electoral survival by crafting election laws through redistricting and vote counting in ways that get them reelected with little to show for. They have resorted to clientelistic strategies of buying votes and providing services in return for political loyalty. Furthermore, the judiciary and the oversight agencies whose job it is to hold the government accountable were at best sidelined but most often intentionally weakened through political interventions or bureaucratic understaffing.

In sum, the political elite govern the country largely by the logic of dividing the spoils among themselves through illegal subcontracting of projects, violating tendering requirements, as well as contracting companies despite conflicts of interest. This has resulted in high levels of corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement and waste benefiting the political elite at the expense of the rest of the population.

It is against this backdrop that the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the body entrusted to govern the oil sector, came into being. Between November 2012 and August 2013, the LPA proceeded rather efficiently and with more transparency than most Lebanese institutions in approaching the sector. It held consultative meetings and workshops, and managed to lay the groundwork for the launch of the offshore licensing round. Now it is waiting on the government to pass the last decrees for the process to continue, and has found itself caught up in the Lebanese political mill with no clear way out of the deadlock.

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Getting Creative about Saying “No!” to Corruption in Lebanon

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

CIPE partner the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) recently wrapped up a banner month in its fight against corruption in Lebanon. CIPE’s partnership with LTA dates back over ten years, and since 2012 CIPE has been supporting LTA through a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to strengthen the rule of law in Lebanon. Our approach has been not only to raise public awareness, but also to empower citizens to exercise their rights. This effort has been consolidated primarily through the Lebanese Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (LALAC) and the Lebanese Anti-Bribery Network (LABN), both of which are housed and managed by LTA.

LALAC operates centers in Beirut, Bekaa, and Nabatieh, which are staffed by attorneys and legal assistants who field complaints of corruption from citizens across 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 Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

Since CIPE’s direct support for LALAC began approximately one year ago, LALAC has achieved an unprecedented level of activity. A total of 453 complaints have been made during that time, 277 of which directly relate to corruption. In 224 cases, LALAC has provided citizens (“clients”) with legal advice on the process of vindicating their rights (short of providing representation in court) and sought resolution with cognizant public institutions.

If LALAC were a law firm, it would be doing a brisk business. But LALAC doesn’t bill its clients. It exists to empower the victims of corruption as champions for reform and to hold public officials accountable. LALAC has already worked directly with more than 15 public institutions to achieve resolution of individual cases and achieved some notable successes. Moreover, LALAC is negotiating memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with numerous public sector entities to cooperate in resolving complaints of corruption – remarkable progress in a country where openly talking about corruption was taboo not long ago.

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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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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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Can Decentralization Solve Political Gridlock in Lebanon?

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LCPS President Sami Atallah (second from left) presenting at a roundtable discussion on decentralization draft law in Beirut on April 16, 2014.

Municipalities are an important engine for economic and social development at the local level. City, town, and village governments are closer to their constituencies, and thus have a better understanding of citizens’ needs and concerns. Despite their importance, Lebanon’s central government only allocates 6 percent of its budget for local governments, while most countries spend on average around 27 percent.

While the idea of decentralization was first introduced in Lebanon with the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the country’s brutal civil war, no government has successfully introduced or passed a decentralization law.  But this is finally changing. CIPE’s partner, the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), is addressing the challenge of local governance at a crucial moment in the nation’s history.

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Decentralization for Better Public Services in Lebanon

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The executive director of  Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), Sami Atallah, was recently on MTV, a Lebanese independent media channel, to discuss the importance of decentralization and local governance. During the interview, Atallah argued that instead of relying on the central government, the public should advocate for and expect their local municipalities to deliver goods and services.  CIPE is supporting LCPS to help achieve this objective, including strengthening the internal grant transfer system in Lebanon.

Watch Atallah’s interview (in Arabic) from 29:40 onward.