Lebanon’s Electoral Candidates Talk Decentralisation

Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in almost a decade are scheduled to take place on 6 May. With a record number of candidates this year, competition among political parties and with candidates supported by civic groups has been intense. Empowering municipalities, in particular to deal with the waste crisis, has become an important theme of the elections.

DRI and the consortium Al-Idara bi-Mahalla (a pun in Arabic meaning “local administration” and “the administration in the right place”) organised a session with electoral candidates, citizens and activists on 21 April, altogether 26 participants. Some candidates promised new solutions, including a change to a drastic reduction of waste production in the first place. Others felt that the current draft law would already be a big step forward if adopted and effectively implemented.

 We have a good decentralisation law being discussed, but it won’t help if not effectively implemented. I believe that decentralisation is here to help us better manage financial and administrative issues and it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the central government.” – Parliamentary Candidate Lina Hamdan

Most of the participants were supportive of the decentralisation bill currently discussed in parliament. Nevertheless, they also stressed the importance of a functioning central government and effective accountability as pre-conditions for the success of a decentralisation reform. Jamil Ballout, a candidate running with Kulluna Watani (All for Nation) coalition in South Lebanon, said: “For decentralisation to happen, we need to give municipalities more authority. However, what’s more important than that, is having an independent judicial system and a strong central government. If we have no independent judicial system, then there is no surveillance, in which case neither the centralised nor the decentralised state would sustain.”

As the waste crisis remains a key concern of the public, several candidates proposed new solutions for environmental preservation. For example Raed Ataya promotes a zero-waste strategy  similar to Ziad Abi Chaker’s project, transforming waste into sustainable and environmentally-friendly, usable eco-boards which are in turn used to form recycle bins which are currently put up in different areas in the capital and beyond. Ataya believes that projects similar to Abi Chaker’s need to become a local and national concern, and it needs to be funded by the central state. Otherwise, municipalities in Lebanon will open ‘rogue’ sites, where waste is openly burned. Ataya stressed the importance of following a national plan that is in line with international health and environmental standards.

“The solution for the waste crisis is to develop a decent environmental law. We need to redefine what it means to be a citizen – as it is a responsibility of all of us to adopt issues like recycling to achieve environmental preservation.” – Parliamentary Candidate Raed Ataya

On the other hand, prospective candidates stressed their own responsibility to be accountable and committed to their electoral campaigns and the citizens who voted them into parliament. Zeina Kallab, for example, a candidate running with the Tadamon Watani List in Kesserwan, pledged for “informing citizens through press conferences, media appearances, and town hall meetings” about the status of policy initiatives she has been promising as part of her electoral campaign.

The event took place in the framework of the project “Setting an Agenda for Decentralisation in Lebanon – Phase II”, supported by the German Federal Foreign Office. 

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