BEIRUT: Decentralization should be adopted by the whole country as a way to aid much-needed development, pundits and politicians at a conference organized by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies said Thursday.
They urged for a draft law on the issue submitted earlier this year to be passed as soon as possible.
Decentralization was included in the 1989 Taif Agreement that brought an end to Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War, but is yet to be implemented. A draft law released April 2 was meant to fix that, but has not yet been voted on by Parliament.
Thursday’s call for action was prompted by “political, social and economical changes that we weren’t expecting,” said LCPS head Sami Atallah, making the matter increasingly urgent.
“For the political part, I think there’s more to the issue than simply having a president or not, [it is also] knowing that the executive power is incapable of producing a balanced development,” he said. He also pointed to the social and economic effects of the refugee crisis.
According to the draft law, each qada would be decentralized units that are financially separated. They would become the hub of local developmental projects and each qada would have wide jurisdictions and resources allowing them to achieve various tasks. “A central government alone isn’t enough,” said former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud.
Baroud emphasized that the central government’s role would remain strong, “but beside it, we need elected local powers that aren’t assigned by the central government.”
However, decentralization should have specific mechanisms because “if it’s not balanced it might not lead to development,” Baroud added.
Both Atallah and Baroud, who were part of the committee that penned the draft law, explained that based on the 147-article bill, each qada would have an independent council elected directly by the people. The council would be financially independent with enough fiscal resources to implement projects.
“The qada council will include two bodies, the general authority and the administrative board,” Baroud said. The general authority body, which would be elected by a majority, would represent all villages and cities within a qada depending on their sizes.
“In every qada, the general authority itself will elect the 12-member administrative board through proportional representation.”
However, the process would be different for Beirut. Being the capital of Lebanon and the center for the various governmental institution made it problematic for the committee.
“We didn’t divide it into different municipalities, we kept as it is, but we tried balance between the governor, who’s representing the central governmental and the council,” Baroud explained.
Calls for decentralization have increased over the years in the wake of the difficulties that the municipalities and the municipality unions have been facing.
In a policy brief released by LCPS in September 2012, Atallah explained that Lebanon had too many municipalities for such a small country. “The number of municipalities has mushroomed from 718 in 1998 to 985 in 2012, which is already high for a country with a population of 4.5 million inhabiting a surface area of 10,454 square km,” he said at the time. That number has now exceeded 1,000.
Some 84 percent of Lebanon’s cities and villages have less than 5,000 people, which has a direct effect on the municipality’s revenues and their ability to develop.
“On the ground, municipalities are weak,” Atallah said. “Most of the work that the municipalities do is limited to infrastructure, electricity and water supply.”
The municipality union of Jezzine has been implementing a developmental plan that has been considered to be a success story, according to Jezzine’s Union Head Khalil Harfouche. “From the plan we learned to include the civil society in what we do, keep politics away, maintain the union’s unity and preserve accountability and transparency in our work.”