BEIRUT: “21 Municipalities,” a project launched by the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies (BCFMES) about the effectiveness and transparency of a range of Lebanese municipalities, was formally presented this week to a parliamentary committee.
In its top priorities, the project tackles the decentralization topic, based on the track record after the garbage crisis, which slowly ended 2016 but still remains an ongoing issue at the municipal level, creating debates about the effectiveness of decentralizing administration of the local problem.
The results of the study were presented by the Center before Parliament’s National Defense Committee during a seminar about the transparency and effectiveness of municipal administration, which featured a wide range of speakers.
The seminar speakers were the Head of the National Defense Committee Samir Al-Jisr, Mayor of Andaket Omar Massoud, Mayor of Barja Nashaat Hamiyeh, Mayor of Tair Harfa Ali Attaya, and the Executive Director of BCFMES Marwan Maalouf.
“I want to address two main issues, funding, and management,” said Al-Jisr, “Funding is the base, and the country has only two sources of funding: tax collection and State contributions. It’s no secret that collection is weakened in all municipalities, particularly in rural areas where favoritism is common, either because of family or partisan or electoral work.”
He added: “Work must be done to help collection, and the funds contributed by the State are linked to municipal budgets and tax collection.”
Jisr noted that this problem may trigger others even in advanced societies and the solution is to hire the implementation of collection for the Municipal Finance Ministry. They get the municipal taxes for municipalities to their advantage and this would increase effectiveness and decrease favortism.”
The other problem addressed by Jisr was the municipality management issue. He said that all municipalities suffer from a lack of management, and if municipalities will not assign strong and enable management, they will continue being of limited achievements and help.
The Mayor of Andaket Omar Massoud, addressed the Central Authority's lack of care regarding the empowerment of local administration: “We have a vision for evolving municipal work, we will tackle this in our parliamentary bloc, and after agreeing on the vision, we will work our hardest to mark it with the rest of the political ingredients to edit the municipal law before the 2022 elections,” he said.
The vision includes: establishing a ministry for municipalities independent from the Ministry of the Interior, amending the election law to a certain level of scientific mandatory literacy for chiefs and councilors, and resident involvement in the municipal election in places of residence.
Issues regarding transparency were noted by the mayor of Barja, Nashaat Hamiyeh, who said that some municipalities are flooded with services while other municipalities barely are, and this is all linked to the central government ministries.
“Ministries are not responding to municipalities’ requests, and favoritism plays an essential role where some municipalities get responses from ministries while others don’t,” said Nashaat.
According to BCFMES reports, all the various municipalities’ studies lacked transparency and openness towards citizens. Even though most municipalities updated public communication by launching official websites and Facebook accounts, 90 percent of municipalities did not publish their decisions, and 80 percent did not publish their budgets. The municipalities that did publish their information only did so when asked by citizens.
When asked about the reason for the lack of transparency and information, answers differed from the public not being ready or not knowing how to deal with this information on budget and decisions, to the municipality law not commanding publication of this information.
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