Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘LCPS

Why Politicians in Lebanon Don’t Know the Issues?

Most of them don’t even read or participate in the discussions

April 2018

Sami Atallah and Mohamad Diab, respectively LCPS executive director and LCPS research associate

As part of LCPS’s work (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies) on monitoring the Lebanese Parliament, we are publishing a series of articles on the performance of the country’s national legislative body. These articles will focus on issues ranging from coherence among aligned parties and MPs, to the relationship lawmakers have with constituents. 

This article assesses MP’s stated positions on an array of policy issues to determine which issues they agree on, those on which they disagree, and the extent to which their positions are consistent with those of their party. 

In the midst of election season, political parties have unleashed a series of policy promises ranging from decentralization to balanced development and from universal healthcare to pension reform.

While it hardly takes any effort for them to express such policy views, explaining how to best achieve them is an entirely different task.

It requires that politicians have a minimum level of policy knowledge as well as consistency across a number of inter-related issues for their promises to be credible.

To call for a specific policy such as providing universal healthcare or fighting poverty, political parties must propose fiscal measures to meet those goals.

As part of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies’ work on the parliament, we sought to identify the policy positions of MPs over a set of 27  issues—including decentralization, taxes, poverty, healthcare, support for the productive sector, rental laws, public services, public property, women’s rights, and capital punishment, among others—as well as determine the level of commitment to advocating for these policies by examining their consistency across related policies.

To accomplish this, we interviewed 65 MPs from different political parties—those who have accepted to see us—out of 128 legislators in 2015 and 2016 to ask them what their policy preferences are.

At first glance, MPs seem to be very supportive of providing universal healthcare to citizens, widening  decentralization to the qada level, mitigating social disparities, protecting public property, reducing or even annulling taxes on basic consumption goods, and bestowing upon women the right to pass on Lebanese nationality to their spouses and children. However, their endorsement fades as one takes a deeper look at their preferences in relation to other policies.

Consider decentralization.

Although MPs strongly support the establishment of qada councils (district) , there is less consensus across political blocs regarding their mandates.

Some MPs support wide responsibilities being entrusted to qada councils so they can develop and implement projects, while others believe that their mandates should be confined to few responsibilities. Holding opposing views is not inherently problematic but the inconsistency shown by MPs when asked about the fiscal resources that should be entrusted to the qada councils is worrying.

When we compared MPs’ stated positions on qada’s responsibilities versus fiscal resources to be granted to these qadas, several issues emerged.

One-quarter of interviewed MPs had an inconsistent view on decentralization. They favored limited authority to qada councils but would grant them considerable fiscal resources, which is not commensurate with their responsibilities.

Another 21 MPs—one-third of those interviewed—seem to be overzealous about decentralization to the extent that it is detrimental to the state as they favor granting qada councils wide authority while also providing them with considerably more fiscal resources than required, exceeding the 35% ratio international benchmark. Clearly, there is at best lack of clarity on how to move forward on decentralization.

On another set of policies, MPs strongly support state efforts to mitigate social disparities and develop comprehensive poverty programs but they are not willing to complement them with necessary policies to reach those ends.

For instance, mitigating social disparities can be dealt with in various ways such as reducing consumption taxes, increasing income or profit taxes, developing poverty programs, or revising the rental law of 2014 or any combination of the above.

Out of the 43 MPs who support reducing social disparities, only twenty-nine are willing to reduce consumption taxes, which could help reduce the gap since consumption tax is regressive. Only twenty-four are willing to increase taxes on income and profits,[1] and only seventeen want to annul the rental law of 2014.

In other instances, MPs across the political spectrum may hold similar policy views but this convergence has not been capitalized on to become a law.

Take for example healthcare.

While MPs overwhelmingly supported providing universal healthcare to citizens, this consensus failed to materialize into a policy that benefits citizens.

In the meantime, the rental law, which was passed in 2014 by parliament, seems to be the most controversial out of the twenty-seven issues with the least degree of consensus among the MPs that we have met.

Roughly one-third of MPs were supportive of the 2014 rental law and the remaining two-thirds were either opposed or neutral. With such narrow support, it is surprising that the law mustered enough votes.

So how is it that an issue with little effective support becomes a law whereas universal health care which enjoys a high level of consensus fails to materialize?

This casts a big shadow either on the honesty of their policy positions during the interview or in their ability to capitalize on consensus and transform it into a policy that addresses peoples’ needs.

While MPs and current candidates will be juggling policy positions, they are hardly credible unless specifics are provided.

Certainly, some of these MPs could engage in substantive and policy-based dialogue with the public and their legislative colleagues. Yet, many have demonstrated that in their time as lawmakers, (over at least 9 years) they clearly do not understand the issues at hand or are not willing to work in the public interest.

Ameliorating this would likely require a shift—if ever so gradual—among the electorate, one which demands competency among the country’s elected leaders. Then it could be expected that candidates and parties adopt policy platforms and clearly favor specific policies during political campaigns.

[1] In fact, only 20 out of 43 MPs are willing to reduce consumption tax and increase capital tax. In effect, this gives little support for income gap mitigation.

Kinds of Decentralization Law? And what Lebanon political parties prefer?

Sami Atallah and Michèle Boujikian, LCPS posted this November 2015

Recent demonstrations and calls for political reform in Lebanon have stemmed from and focused on the government’s inability to address a national waste management crisis. One key demand of demonstrators is that local municipalities be given greater control over waste management and how money is spent collecting and processing waste.
Such calls beg a broader question: What kind of decentralization law would Lebanese political parties really want?
According to recent findings by LCPS, Lebanese MPs would favor a more restricted role for regional councils, sectarian quotas for elected officials, and an electorate comprising the registered population under a new decentralization law.
Following the release of the decentralization draft law in April 2014 by a committee that was established by former Prime Minister Mr. Najib Mikati in November 2012 and led by former Minister of Interior and Municipalities Mr. Ziyad Baroud, LCPS interviewed 120 opinion leaders to hear their thoughts on decentralization in general and on various elements of the decentralization draft law.

What Kind of Decentralization Law Do Political Parties Really Want?

Among those interviewed were MPs on the National Defense, Interior and Municipalities Parliamentary Committee and the Administration and Justice Parliamentary Committee, senior political party members, mayors, religious leaders, experts, and members of civil society organizations.

They were asked about different facets of the law which fundamentally transformed qadas (small department) into elected councils endowed with the mandate to provide a wide range of services as well as the fiscal resources to do so.

The survey, which was largely closed ended, focused on 5 key areas: The respondents’ understanding of decentralization, elections, the prerogatives and financing of the qada councils, and the financial transfer system.

Using this survey we have been able to get a clearer picture of what MPs think of decentralization.

Although more than 90% of them support decentralization, this high level of support masks serious issues.

In brief, they seem to prefer a more confined role for the qada councils, favor sectarian quotas, and prefer that they are elected by the registered rather than resident population. It appears then that their position highlights their desire to not only keep sectarian quotas intact but in fact to prevent political reforms.

For instance, a key pillar of decentralization is giving elected councils wide prerogatives and fiscal means that they would otherwise not have.

Although more than 88% of politicians and senior party members think that elections and financing are key elements of decentralization, their support for wide prerogatives for councils drops to 60%. This contrasts sharply with the 96% of other respondents who think that prerogatives are key to decentralization.

Furthermore, only 34% of politicians and senior party members think that qada councils should have wide prerogatives and the authority to collect taxes compared to 58% of others surveyed.

In fact, party leaders and politicians (63%) prefer that the qada councils’ responsibilities be confined to a coordinating role among municipalities.

The political elite appear to be in favor of entrenching sectarianism in qada councils.

When asked whether they support sectarian distribution in qada council seats, 69% of politicians and senior party members said they are in favor of such a measure compared to only 28% of others.

Political parties appear to have no appetite for serious reform as they seem eager to replicate the parliamentary experience by having the registered rather than resident population elect their representatives.

In fact, 40% of party leaders and politicians compared to only 26% of others surveyed want the election to be based on the registered population. A key part of financing the qada is through an intergovernmental fund.

Based on best practices, this fund should establish clear criteria for distribution to prevent favoritism. When asked about the criteria of distributing the fund, 40% of politicians and senior party members preferred it be done on an ad hoc basis compared to 19% of other respondents. (And what ad hoc basis means?)

Finally, in order for politicians to make sound decisions, one would expect them to be familiar with facts and figures about municipalities and municipal spending.

None of the MPs, including members of committees, knew how much money is transferred from the central government to local governments through the independent municipal fund or how much municipal expenditures amount to as a share of central government spending.

When political parties and politicians call for decentralization, one should be cautious of what their real intentions are.

After all, MPs do not seem interested in decentralization as a first step toward larger political reform but only as a way to consolidate their own power.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

November 2020
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