Strengthening Local Governance

Strengthening Local Governance Local Potential to the Help on a National Scale

Any long-term sustainable policy should be local since it is linked with the local population's direct and efficient participation in development based on this population's potential. The latter bears the fruit of its action and of good or bad governance. Lebanon has not exerted any major efforts in this sense despite its rich democratic heritage as nepotism thrives, and conflicts with the view of personal interests abound.

The three-year programme: “Strengthening Local Governance: Initiative, Participation and Citizenship on the Local Level” (2001-2004) undertaken by the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace in cooperation with National Endowment for Democracy is about concrete experiences of local democracy in several Lebanese towns through three means: local legal information, participation of citizens and pilot small projects carried out locally.

The books in three volumes ( Strengthening Local Governance: Initiative, Participation and Citizenship on the Local Level in Lebanon , Beirut, Librairie Orientale, 2002-2004, 3 vol.) includes the proceedings of seminars organized by the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace in more than twenty towns (Mizyara, Hammana, Rachaya-l-Wàdî, Kobeyyat…) in order to promote local democratic debate on vital, daily, general interest issues, in cooperation with the Mizyara Youth Club, the Hammana Tourist Club, the Rachayya-l-Wadi Environment Association and the Agricultural Cooperative in Kobeyyat. Local coordination for these seminars was ensured by Rania Khoury, Maya Kanaan Saad, Chadi Saad, Tony Georges Atallah, Muhammad al-Masri… The book includes a chapter entitled: “Hurdles and Initiatives in Local Development” with the description of local initiatives, as well as a “Citizen's Guide to Administrative Procedures” set forth by Evelyne Messarra describing 35 municipal formalities.

Action-oriented research

Great effort has been done in order to hold municipal elections in Lebanon , university research has been published about municipalities in Lebanon but there is no in-depth field and training work to use the municipal elections in local democratic practices.

In is in fact on the local level that citizens actually “see” where the money they paid has been used for and “feel” their power to change things wherever they may be.

If such training is spread to various towns and carried on for at least three years using knowledge and know-how it will necessarily have consequences on a national scale.

Commitment and Participation

The municipal elections finally held in 700 muncipalities in Lebanon after 35 years offer the following ways to develop democracy:

1. Commitment: Increasing the Lebanese interest and commitment to public interest as responsible citizens that share in public matters on a local level.

2. Conflict regulation: Learning to self-manage and negotiate in order to regulate conflicts on a local level which ensures more legitimacy to the power.

3. Transparency and accountability: on the local level, people see what the taxes they pay are for, what is undertaken which creates instantly a need for government transparency and teaches people to hold officials accountable.

4. Participation in development: municipal action encourages participation in sustainable human development since citizens are required to be autonomous and not to depend exclusively on a remote state or on the central power to improve their living conditions, wherever they may be – which is known as empowerment. “Wherever you may be, says Nietche, dig deep”.

Researches undertaken in Lebanon since the municipal elections are often abstract. Results have not been used in concrete field action to develop daily democratic practices and the locals' efficient participation. The researches emphasize hurdles to local participation; these hurdles can be overcome only through field training and concrete examples of local projects and efficient participation patterns.

Each seminar gathered more than seventy local social actors, ministers, deputies, members of the municipal council, NGOs, mukhtars, university students and heads of public and private service institutions: hospitals, public schools, police offices, regional offices of various ministries, etc. Debates and papers dealt with three aspects:

- Making the town's condition known in various fields.

- Listening to the locals' needs, expectancies and priorities.

- Carrying out a pilot-initiative with the locals.

Transcending Rivalries and Divisions

Field observation shows that local authority practices are plunged in political and family rivalries and divisions. The Programme endeavours to gather each town's locals around local issues that concern their daily life beyond traditional rivalries and divisions. Everyone's concerned about health, education, environment, sewages, streets and pavements. The workshops offer therefore an opportunity to meet around common issues.

The programme's aim is to know about the town's conditions, to empower the locals through their participation, and to urge initiative-taking without depending on the central power or waiting for it to find a solution but rather causing the power to be more involved.

The Programme is pioneer work on both the Lebanese and Arab levels as far as local democratic practice is concerned. Lebanon being a small country the Programme's impact will be all the more important if carried on for three years at least. Normative experiences lead to emulations.

The Programme is innovative compared to academic research undertaken in Lebanon since 1990 on municipal elections and councils. It profits by this research to stimulate good local governance not only through municipal councils but also through all local active forces.

The global programme's period is three years (2001-2004) in order to avoid activism or superficial work like a flash in the pan. Perseverance and continuity are a guarantee of in-depth serious work that becomes part of local democratic practices and culture.

The Programme mobilized in its three years more than six thousand people – information and formation, initiatives, local mini-projects, etc. – in various Lebanese regions.