I – Taking stock
1. Since independence, Lebanon has been periodically plagued by conflict and strife within and across its borders. A lingering state of unstable equilibrium exacted a heavy toll in lives and livelihoods, confining the country at times to the intensive care unit, and continues to threaten its existence, fray its national unity, weaken its society’s cohesion, and undermine its institutions. The ensuing political vacuum, the frail and tenuous institutional setting, and the disregard of constitutional mandates and milestones even at the highest levels – extended voids at the presidency of the Republic, and a parliamentary body periodically cloned and widely perceived as non-representative – have dimmed the prospects for political, legislative and institutional reforms. Major national decisions have become a reserved dominion of a handful of “referee leaders” wielding effective power over, yet unaccountable towards, the people of Lebanon. With no common view of the national interest nor unified policy agenda, their actions have focused on divvying up state sinecures, positions and business among partisans and acolytes. In the collective psyche this has engrained a culture of dependency, influence peddling and cronyism over the values of effort, productivity and citizenry which the people of Lebanon heralded throughout their history.
2. The stark political, social, and institutional reality has derailed the post-civil war reconstruction drive, disfigured the natural and urban landscapes, accelerated the emigration of professional elites, particularly among the youth, and eroded Lebanon’s standing compared to neighboring countries and emerging economies. The deleterious effects are blatant at the economic, demographic and social levels in terms of drag on growth, growing disparity between the Nation’s capital and its hinterland, uneven distribution of income, decaying infrastructure with faltering energy sector, clogged transportation grid, crumbling water supply and waste management systems, poor yet costly communications network, and irreversible environmental degradation. In the context of a decade-long breach of a main canon of public policy when budget laws were not enacted, governments unrestrained, incurred runaway expenditures mainly for salaries and benefits of a plethoric cadre of an ineffectual state apparatus, driving up unsustainable deficits and an ever ascending public debt.
3. With nearly failing state institutions and clear surrounding regional dangers, Lebanon should enact a set policies aimed at unleashing the resources and talents which our nation, land and people, holds idle in its fold. Urgent initiatives and legislation compliant with constitutional rules and national charters are needed to rekindle People’s lost hope that Lebanon will not trail, but be at the fore front of, Humanity’s march for progress. To consolidate post-war state rebuilding and national reconciliation, such initiatives must restore the role and powers of the legislative, executive, judiciary and supervisory bodies, many marginalized and hallowed by neglect and inefficiency. Decisive actions should: (i) halt the abuse of power and misuse of public funds in the absence of budgetary and parliamentary controls; (ii) ensure a secure, safe and productive life for the Lebanese; and (iii) spur economic growth in addressing governance and institutional impediments to productive investments, the sole road to job creation. Initiatives, to succeed, should be spearheaded by political parties representing the people’s will through fair and transparent electoral processes ensuring peaceful transfer of power. They should be promoted by national leaders respectful of the rule of law, and having the required vision, consensus building aptitude and will to build mature and effective state institutions commanding the trust and enjoying the support of civil society.
4. Specific proposals for feasible, long-term solutions to the entrenched problems impeding society’s progress have been wanting, as political factions, increasingly split along regional fault lines, take pretext of security risks to trivialize vital economic and social problems, and disregard the pressing need for reforms which are at the core of the rejuvenation process necessary to remedy the country’s ills, and which is central to people’s concerns. Yet, despite overwhelming constraints, reforms must be pursued to overhaul state institutions crippled by political stalemate, hampered by an unproductive cadre, and marred by rampant corruption. An effective institutional framework is a determinant factor for the welfare of citizens, the progress of their community, the future of their children, and their right to live and work in their homeland, not as migrants across the globe in search of their livelihood. This is especially true in Lebanon given the economic weight of the services sector (banking, tourism, trade, and transport) the performance of which heavily rests on security, stability, the rule of law, and well functioning institutions. Furthermore, the economy today is strained by the fallout of the Syrian war and an unprecedented inflow of refugees.
5. Lebanon’s only option is to steer away from the path – to which it risks to be heading – of failed states unable to secure the basic needs for the sustainability of an organized society. Indeed, a state incapable of protecting citizens’ safety and controlling the nation’s borders is an impotent state. A state incapable of providing drinking water, generating electricity for household and enterprise use, managing traffic and public transport, and halting irreversible environmental degradation is an impotent state. A state that allows month after month the accumulation of domestic waste on city sidewalks to be then scattered in open landfills in forests and rivers, is an impotent state. A state incapable of controlling steadily widening public deficits and debt and enacting budget laws to limit reckless spending on a dysfunctional administration is an impotent state. A state that routinely tolerates the closing of main highways by sundry protesting groups, and does not deter illegal settlements on the public domain is an impotent state. A state unable to build national consensus around a policy to deal with the massive Syrian exodus is an impotent state. To preserve the attributions of statehood, Lebanon must launch a program of reforms aimed at: streamlining public administration; fighting the scourge of corruption; protecting human rights and civil liberties; ensuring the independence of the judiciary; and further decentralizing administrative authority. It should also devise a nationally agreed policy on the Syrian migrant settlement in Lebanon.
II – Institutional and administrative reform
6. Rebuilding and empowering executive and supervisory entities conducting public policy, enforcing laws and overseeing regulations are crucial pillars of reform. Upgrading and improving the efficacy of the civil service apparatus – now misaligned, excessively large yet inefficient, with weak and marginalized institutions – is at the core of a successful institutional reform, indeed of the whole reform program, and has a determinant impact on society’s development path. The public administration’s organization chart dates back to the 1960’s, based on the tasks and duties state institutions were mandated to perform then, but which since have substantially evolved. Time has come to redesign the existing structure in line with the “Strategy for the Reform and Development of the Public Administration” prepared by the “Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform” (OMSAR). The strategy focuses initially on the government’s core ministries and departments, and must be implemented after consultation and consensus building at the national and political levels. In a next stage it must be extended to all public sector institutions beyond core government. Public sector staff (military personnel, civil service, public enterprise, and education) now exceeds two hundred thirty thousand, in addition to ninety thousand retirees drawing government pensions. This is an inordinately large corps in a country of four million with a labor force of 1.25 million and a private sector-led economy! The administrative apparatus must be streamlined in line with its updated mandate inter-alia through redeployment of surpluses and natural attrition. Once the new structure is in place, grades and wages would need to match enhanced public servant credentials and higher productivity, as raising the level of human competencies in the weak and marginalized public institutions is a necessary condition for the success of reform.
7. Administrative reform must also be pursued through actionable “e-government” programs which ultimately allow citizens to conduct most official transactions in filling applications on-line, and collecting their completed formalities upon notification. E-government will have an impact on the efficiency of the government apparatus, and in addition help build the foundation for a knowledge-based and corruption-free society by curtailing the role of intermediaries and relieving burden on citizens. (Lebanon still ranks 110 among 152 countries in terms of e-participation relevance to the democratic process.) Despite numerous government decrees on e-government policies, effective e-government projects are yet to be developed. These should build on the draft e-government strategy yet to be endorsed by the government, which in 2011 had mandated OMSAR to develop the e-government portal (Dawlati). OMSAR is piloting a number of e-services, which allow citizens to download forms, which still need to be filled manually.
8. Public funding and support are needed to adopt technologies conducive to the automation of public administration, and the promotion of e-services across ministries, most of which are ready to provide them to citizens. Main actions required to this effect are to: (i) strengthen coordination between OMSAR and other ministries to agree on the standards to identify, design, and conduct relevant e-government projects; (ii) implement the e-government building blocks needed on the national level to allow inter-operability between ministries and the exchange of electronic transactions through an “enterprise service bus”; (iii) implement the national billing and payment gateway, the “Single Sign On” and e-authentication for all users of e-government systems and the government network infrastructure and data center (gov-net); and (iv) define a national cyber security strategy. Implementation priorities, after the e-government pre-requisites, should be the “One Stop Shop” of the Commercial Register, the National Cadaster on-line system, the automation of Civil Records and e-authentication system. Furthermore, the classification of public data needs to be done by all ministries in order to assess the storage requirement in Lebanon versus the Cloud.
III – Combatting the scourge of corruption
9. Self-serving policies, cronyism, the disregard of constitutional tenets, the rule of law and governance ethics, and the marginalization of supervisory authorities have been at the root of many nations ills. Lebanon may have become an embodiment of such practices. No longer should concerned citizens stand idle in front of the state’s waning authority to weed out a corruption pervasive to a degree never observed in Lebanon’s contemporary history. Ill-gotten wealth accrues to and is shared among an influential kleptocracy subverting the rule of law, and ignoring the will and collective interest of citizens. Graft, ethics violations, and misappropriation of public funds are growing year on year, spread by a culture of influence peddling, abuse of power and public trust, and the absence of regulatory tools and transparent indicators to hold officials responsible and accountable. A reform priority therefore is to curb corruption, in hidden and visible forms, in public administration and the economy at large. To this end, the legal and regulatory framework to fight corruption needs to be significantly enhanced and made operational, inter-alia through the following actions:
• Put into effective implementation the program of the “Anti-corruption Strategy” already outlined by government to ensure transparency in public administration, starting by establishing and adequately resourcing the planned anti-corruption body with sufficient enforcement powers.
• Establish a special unit to track corruption in public institutions, and rely on independent bodies for internal and external controls, and for follow-up actions.
• Establish a unit for coordination between all institutions entrusted with investigating, controlling and prosecuting corruption, to standardize relevant policies and impose remedial measures and sanctions.
• Set clear guidelines and criteria for the appointment of senior officials in the public administrations where activities may be more prone to corrupt practices; these officials should to be notified that they would be subject to special monitoring and controls, including measures for banks to control and report suspicious transactions related to their activities.
• Activate and facilitate the task of agencies (Accounting Board, and Disciplinary Board) responsible for identifying and prosecuting cases of corruption in public administration.
• Enhance fiscal transparency in strengthening governance in the revenue and customs administrations, improving revenue compliance, and making the procurement system transparent, inter-alia in tightening laws on procurement and public contracts.
• Enhance the effectiveness of the “illicit wealth law” by making public the asset declaration system for senior officials, and set up policies and procedures in the Ministry of Finance to audit and certify the financial disclosure reports of senior public sector staff.
• Strengthen the legal and organizational frame to enforce the powers the Constitution vests in Parliament to request the government accounting board to conduct special audits.
• Leverage the efforts of civil society’s organizations active in the fight against corruption in allowing their participation therein, especially at the detection stage, and enact legislation to protect whistleblowers.
• Assess the possibility of Lebanon joining the international coalition of countries against corruption (GRECO), to strengthen international cooperation and improve performance in the fight against corruption.
IV – Human rights and public freedoms
10. The belief of individuals that their rights and freedoms are safeguarded is a fundamental element of trust in society. This faith is a potent force driving democratic, social and economic dynamics, and is a prerequisite for consolidating social peace and stability. Therefore, action to protect human rights and public freedoms should:
• Reinforce the culture of human rights sanctity, and comply with the standards of the international human rights conventions to which Lebanon is signatory, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Paris Principles of Human Rights, and the Helsinki Convention.
• Guarantee the freedom of thought and speech, and view differences in opinions and beliefs as engine of “intellectual wealth”.
• Protect the liberty of creed and conscience, consider religion as an essential part of humanity’s patrimony, accept religious differences as a necessary attribute of a tolerant, democratic society, and refrain from the political exploitation of sacred religious values to sectarian ends.
• Uphold the right guaranteed by law regarding citizens’ unfettered access to information.
• Protect the freedom of the press, print and audio-visual media, and ensure it is subject to no monopolistic control. This may require a review of related articles of the constitution and legislation that are inconsistent with a free social order.
• Enforce all international standards agreed to by Lebanon and pertaining to the rights and freedoms of women, children and marginalized groups.
• Reject and deal firmly and transparently with the dark ages practices, prohibited under modern laws, of resorting to torture and arbitrary detention, and take measures in response to complaints filed by victims, without leniency towards perpetrators.
• Encourage communication and foster cooperation with pro-bono institutions and civil society organizations active in the defense of human rights especially in monitoring rights violations, formulating recommendations for deterring and sanctioning abuse, promoting awareness on human rights issues, and monitoring the performance of the authorities.
• Guarantee the freedom of litigation, due process and the right to a fair trial to ensure justice and equality, and deter privileged access of connected and empowered people to decision-makers.
V – Rule of law and independence of the judiciary
11. Abiding by the rule of law is the very basis of a democratic system, and is the guarantee that human rights and citizens’ freedoms shall be upheld. The Constitution (Article 20) states that “the judiciary power shall be under the authority of courts of different levels and competences, in a system governed by law and providing the necessary guarantees to judges and litigants alike. The conditions and limitations of judicial guarantees are defined by law. Judges are independent in the performance of their functions, and court decisions and judgments are issued and executed in the name of the Lebanese people”. Legal rules are based on values of universal law, equality of all before the law, protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, freedom of litigation and the state’s commitment to law enforcement. The judicial system, one of the foundations of the social order, is predicated upon the existence of a competent judicial authority fully entrusted to apply all constitutional and legal texts. Justice can only be achieved through a judiciary having the highest degree of trust, transparency, integrity and independence. In this context, Lebanon needs legislation that fills the gaps in the judicial system in line with the principle of the rule of law, and the standards of democratic countries – an updated legislation that seeks to:
• Define clearly the relationship between legislative, executive and judicial authorities, enforce strictly the principle of separation of powers, and create the necessary checks and balances.
• Take the necessary measures to make Parliament effective in its oversight activities in addition to its legislative role.
• Review all applicable laws to amend or repeal provisions that may be inconsistent with the Constitution.
• Uphold the principle of universality and mandatory application of the laws and the provisions of the Constitution.
• Bring the law’s sections on fundamental rights and freedoms to par with international standards.
• Ensure the independence of judges and impartiality of the judicial system. Independence of the judiciary is a pillar of the separation of powers in democratic regimes. It frees judicial decisions from the influence of other branches of government, and prevents the hegemony of the political class and powerful private interests. To ensure the independence of the judiciary, judges could be granted long tenure – even for life, as in some systems such as the US supreme and appellate courts – and their dismissal made difficult, if at all possible – as in some regimes, where judges and prosecutors are elected directly by the constituencies over which they officiate.
• Review the rules for selecting members of the Supreme Judicial Council – for instance, by electing some members by the judiciary corps, and expanding membership to judges from the Accounting Board and the State Consultative Court, thus including the administrative and financial judiciary branches in the Council.
• Select judges in a thorough process taking due account of professional qualifications, good behavior and personal reputation. The Bar Association could be involved at the first selection stages, for instance in the scrutiny and vetting of candidates’ credentials and curriculum vitae.
• Reform and update as need be the teaching of law to improve the qualifications and credentials of law professionals, and the training of judges and lawyers.
• Adopt the principle of judiciary streams where judges are specialized by areas such as organized crime, unfair competition, financial crimes, money laundering, …
• Equip courts with modern facilities and technology, with adequate provisions to raise performance standards, and speed up the process of litigation, as trials delay is a form of injustice towards litigants.
• Create an institutional and material environment that allows judges to perform their duty effectively, including adequate compensation, honorable living conditions, and protection for those who may be subject to threat and intimidation.
• Review laws relating to judicial procedures, to improve the effectiveness and performance of the judicial system, and strengthen the staffing and activate the role of the Judicial Inspection Authority.
• Ensure full independence of the judicial commission in charge of elections supervision, taking into account the experience and practices of democratic countries.
• Define, and narrowly limit, the conditions under which blanket amnesty laws are voted, as they may raise in the collective conscience a sense of injustice and absence of due process for the victims of acts subject to amnesty.
• Modernize the prison management system, to avoid turning incarceration into a breeding ground for the intensification of crime, rather than for the rehabilitation of inmates and their social reintegration so they may become involved and productive members of their community.
VI – Administrative decentralization
12. The inability and failure of the central authority, since the civil war’s end, to rehabilitate public infrastructure and provide basic services have reinforced citizens’ belief that only
administrative decentralization can achieve the objective of “balanced development” as stated in the prelude to the Constitution (“Document of National Reconciliation”, or Taëf Accord) that “the balanced cultural, social and economic development of the regions is a cornerstone of the state’s unity and the system’s stability.”
13. Decentralization, in principle and per design, is a worthwhile policy, as it enables citizens the right and ability to put forth their views, and gives them more control over local decisions taken by the authorities on their behalf – and which in a centralized context, do not always reflect their opinions or interests. Progressive governance systems in democratic societies have seen the central authority’s role in political and administrative practices receding to the benefit of local authorities. In many facets of public affairs, democracy is increasingly recognized as a system of participation and cooperation at all state levels. Yet, in Lebanon, there has been a strong reluctance to delegate to local authorities the powers, resources and tools to manage local affairs in line with local needs and interests. Thus to infuse the principles of democratic, participatory and pluralistic practices at the local authorities’ level regarding political, economic and social issues, it is necessary to:
• Consult with local authorities before taking action pertaining to their responsibilities and operations.
• Provide local authorities with the financial capacity to carry out their diverse, mandated tasks.
• Assert the rights of local authorities to exercise all powers and prerogatives devolved under the Constitution, including the right to resort to the judiciary.
• Ensure that central supervision and controls exercised over local authorities are commensurate in scope and confines with the activities locally undertaken.
• Allow the participation of civil society’s institutions in selected activities of local authorities, especially in the social and environmental fields.
• Ensure that the size of local units within any proposed decentralized framework is not too small to become an obstacle to the realistic implementation and efficient operation of infrastructure and local development projects. To this end, Lebanon should adopt what is known in the European Union as the “principle of subsidiarity”, where public service responsibilities are delegated to the lowest rung of the organizational structure at which projects can still be executed and services delivered effectively and economically. This is a crucial principle to observe as achieving the economies of scale required to provide effective and affordable services could be a challenge given Lebanon’s small size.
14. If a network of local authorities is to be established pursuant to the “draft decentralization law” that has been recently prepared, it would be essential to define and delineate carefully the responsibilities of: (i) the newly proposed regional entities, which are extensive and cover all sectors except defense and security; and (ii) those of existing municipalities which it may be politically difficult to scale back in any proposed decentralization system. Moreover, taking account of the known weaknesses of public institutions at the national level with shortages of qualified personnel and lack of technical and administrative capacity, it would be no less critical to secure the talent, expertise and technical capabilities to staff the institutions of the newly created regional entities so they not be fragile, incapable and ineffective.
15. Finally, the principle of balanced development advocated in the “Document of National Reconciliation”, rests in part on the fair redistribution of tax receipts and thus of the national wealth, between regions to help the least endowed keep up with the pace of development across the national territory. Given sharp disparities in terms of development levels between Lebanon’s geographical regions, it is necessary to assess the share of central Treasury receipts which have to be transferred to various regions and the allocation criteria for such transfers in a way to meet the objectives of balanced development, and not widen further the economic and social gaps between regions, which may weaken rather than strengthen national unity and cohesion.
Building State Institutions and Upholding the Rule of Law