Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri submitted a thirty-member Cabinet line-up to the President of the Lebanese Republic today. The new government will now prepare a policy statement to be presented to the Parliament for a vote-of-confidence. Safadi Foundation USA believes the formation of a Cabinet in Lebanon presents an opportunity to advance Lebanon’s development and build support for state institutions that will ensure Lebanon’s true independence and sovereignty. “The Lebanese parliament should immediately assert its role as a center for national debate and dialogue and begin to constructively engage youth and civil society in an effort to abolish confessionalism, accelerate administrative decentralization and spread a culture of peace in accordance with the Taif Accord,” said Lara Alameh, Executive Director of Safadi Foundation USA. Reforms are necessary to ensure Lebanon’s independence so that it is not vulnerable to external influence and regional relationships.
The following benchmarks outline recommendations for the Government of Lebanon in the areas of political reform, civil society and education. The donor community should support these reforms for a more sustainable development in Lebanon:
Electoral Law: In light of recent parliamentary elections and the upcoming municipal elections, the government of Lebanon should give new life to the establishment of a revised electoral law that includes additional reforms not yet passed. Specifically, the President should designate an independent and nonpartisan Committee to reaffirm the findings of the Boutros Commission and outline a set of recommendations for parliament to implement in advance of the 2010 municipal elections.
Decentralization: The Government of Lebanon is working with local and regional councils to draft a decentralization law to be debated and passed by Parliament. The Government of Lebanon should request assistance and resources from the donor community to help draft a modern decentralization law that would be adopted for the Lebanese case and would not threaten any of its communities. Additionally, donors should work with current municipalities to provide them with technical and infrastructure related assistance needed to implement administrative reforms. A certain percentage of budget support to the Government of Lebanon should be based on conditionalities to disburse that aid to the municipalities.
Capacity Building: Lebanon’s ministries face serious governance challenges. Most positions reflect the confessional design of Lebanon’s political institutions and acute levels of patronage. The donor community should help the government of Lebanon build a culture based on meritocracy through expanding training and technical support programs for individual Ministries. These programs will help raise the quality and knowledge of people within the government. Programs should include increased pay for public sector positions, which are approximately sixty percent less than private sector positions. Donor countries should coordinate their efforts to sponsor reform in Ministries that demonstrate leadership at the Director General and/or Ministerial level.
Donor Assistance: Currently, mechanisms for oversight of donor funding in Lebanon are limited. The Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) and the High Relief Committee (HRC) are not long-term solutions to addressing Lebanon’s development needs as they do not address Lebanon’s national needs in a comprehensive manner. Oversight of all donor assistance in Lebanon needs to be expanded to include appropriate parliamentary committees, local and regional representatives and increased community participation. The Government of Lebanon should establish a Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation in order to coordinate donor assistance and ensure that donor projects are in line with national strategies.
Capacity Building: Lebanon has many registered NGOs from smaller towns and villages who do not benefit from international donor funding because they do not yet have the technical know-how or the support of a donor network to apply. Larger Lebanese NGOs should use their experience and expertise to reach out to smaller NGOs and form partnerships to help them build their capacities.
Youth: Lebanese youth face high rates of unemployment, violence, school dropout, delinquency, and emigration. These youth should be taught skills to enhance their job prospects such as training in entrepreneurship, English language, and information technology. In addition, peace-building programs that promote tolerance and cross-confessional dialogue should continue to be implemented. The Government of Lebanon should formulate economic policies that focus on job creation for youth and encourage college graduates to remain in the country.
Civic Participation: The political system and public administration are over centralized, mostly corrupt, and inefficient; the lack of meritocracy has limited citizen participation, particularly of youth. Civic Education that features concepts of citizenship, good governance, and public participation in the democratic process should be standardized in all schools. Enhancing citizen participation on a municipal and regional level will help break down traditional barriers and improve the efficiency and authority of the central government throughout the country. Citizen awareness campaigns should continue to be implemented at the local level.
Environment: Lebanon faces severe environmental issues ranging from desertification and clean water to the endangerment of the famed cedars. These issues transcend confessional lines and if they are not solved can lead to future conflict. Civil society and local and national governments should promote public awareness about the consequences of poor environmental policies and practices.