BEIRUT: Most citizens in Lebanon aren't aware of where their municipalities are investing their taxes, which is usually due to the officials’ lack of transparency.
In Lebanon, municipalities are responsible for public welfare whether its water and/or electricity supply, clean streets, improving the economy in that certain area, incubating initiatives and more.
According to Mohamad Ayoub, founder of Nahnoo, an NGO whose work includes enhancing participatory citizenship, public spaces and more, a citizen’s relationship with his/her municipality is “the first official relationship a person will have as a citizen, the municipality is the closest to the people.”
Ayoub added that people often mix the duties of the government with the duties of a municipality.
“The government operates on a national level, while municipalities are responsible for a certain area,” he continued. “For example, the municipality is responsible for making sure the trash is being picked up regularly, but it’s the government's job to decide where that trash will end up.”
Nahnoo is currently working on a campaign, Municipalities Under the Spot, that calls for transparency by all Lebanese municipalities regarding all sorts of decisions being made. The NGO has set up a website where citizens can file complaints and check for updates.
The website also caters for municipalities who don’t have their own website by providing a platform for these municipalities to publish their decisions. The MUTS campaign was launched in 2016, but now Nahnoo is reinforcing the idea to remind people of their rights.
The campaign’s objectives are to raise awareness on a national level about the right of citizens to access information and get the Ministry of Interior to publish a memo that requires all municipalities to publish decisions and be transparent. The second objective was achieved while the first one is a work in progress.
“When we first launched the campaign we got thousands of calls from people who wanted to file complaints and engage, this means that the public wants to participate, but doesn’t have the right tools to do so,” explained Ayoub, adding: “for that reason, we made a complaint template that citizens could easily fill out and file.”
According to Lebanese law, municipalities are obligated to publish all its decisions within 15 days of making them on any matter, including budget and the financial statement, and “financial statements are to be published yearly," as Ayoub explains.
The Beirut municipality specifically started doing this in recent years, after not fulfilling that duty for seven years,” said Ayoub, adding that how the taxes were spent during those years is unclear due to incoherent documents.
“Accountability is essential for development, but unfortunately people cant hold municipalities accountable if they don’t know where their taxes are being spent,” he said.
He further noted that the public is unaware of the fact that 11% of almost all bills being paid goes to the taxpayer’s municipality, like gas bills, telephone bills, water bills, even part of the monthly salary goes to the municipality, which is collected to enhance public welfare.
“Circumstances of sea life, historical monuments, public transportation, restrictions on hunting, random buildings should be a lot better than they are now,” Ayoub added, saying that this raises the question of where the taxes are actually being spent.
He also believes that a participatory approach can decrease corruption and build trust between citizens and municipalities.
Several municipalities have responded positively to the campaign and are now transparent about their decisions like the municipalities of Zahle, Jbeil, Barja, Jounieh, Qalamoun, and Sarafand.
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