Chapter 8. Open state

Open government is a culture of governance that does not only apply to the executive branch of the state, but that can apply to all state institutions. Despite most open government initiatives worldwide focusing on the executive, countries are designing specific strategies and initiatives for an “open judiciary”, “open parliament”, “open subnational government” and “open independent institutions”, or are even adopting an open state approach. Costa Rica for example signed the first-ever Declaration for the Creation of an Open State in 2016, and Colombia is the first country to elaborate an Open State Policy (OECD, 2019[6]). An open state is “when all public institutions of the executive, parliament and the judiciary, independent public institutions, and all levels of government join forces and collaborate with civil society, academia, the media and the private sector to design and implement a reform agenda to make public governance more transparent, accountable and participatory” (OECD, 2016[2]).The OECD therefore recommends that states “promote a progressive move from the concept of open government towards that of open state, while recognising the respective roles, prerogatives and overall independence of all concerned parties” (OECD, 2016[2]).

In Lebanon, the prime minister and the minister of state for administrative reform are currently leading the country’s open government reform efforts. Open government initiatives can also be found at the subnational level. As Chapter 10 shows, the municipalities of Shweir and Byblos have been adopting some initiatives to promote the principles of transparency, stakeholder participation, integrity and accountability.

Lebanon’s Parliament also plays a crucial role in open government efforts: it is where key legislation related to open government principles is adopted, and it can be a means to engage stakeholders in policy making and legislative deliberations. Greater openness of Parliament would enable stakeholders to participate in the law-making process and in holding government to account (OECD, 2016[2]). The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness (see Box 8.1) provides a set of principles that can guide parliaments in strengthening openness.

Lebanon has a unicameral system with a National Assembly that is elected for a term of four years by universal suffrage. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2018, following several years of extended mandates as political tumults and legislative changes were preventing the timely organisation of elections. According to the 1989 Ṭaif Accord, which ended the civil war in Lebanon, parliamentary seats are apportioned equally between Christian and Muslim sects. As all large political factions in the country and in Parliament are also part of the government there is no opposition in Parliament, which means that its traditional accountability function is restricted. For example, according to interviews with parliamentarians, Parliament has only held one session to question the government since it was elected in 2018. The questions and interrogations by parliamentarians are published on the website of the Assembly, however the last update was in 2012.

Questioning government is a common practice in OECD countries, and a key function of parliament is to play an oversight role. The Lebanese Parliament could consider institutionalising this practice more regularly, as per Article 1311 of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament,2 by opening up such question sessions to stakeholders. It could proactively communicate about these sessions beforehand and invite stakeholders, such as civil society and the media, to participate and act as watchdogs. Parliament’s sessions are public, unless the majority decides to hold them in private at the request of the government or at least five deputies (Article 51, unofficial translation).

Another way that Parliament’s oversight function has been diminished is through the adoption of the 2019 Budget Law without discussing the latest audit report of the budget – the 2017 report. A law was passed to allow for this change in procedure and the 2017 audit report was not made public. As discussed in Chapter 6, the budget is a key tool to decide policy priorities and its transparency is therefore of paramount importance. Parliament could consider discussing the draft budget law and the audit report in public sessions and making all relevant documents accessible to the public.

According to the findings of the Gherbal Initiative (2019[11]), Parliament could enhance its application of the Right of Access to Information Law by appointing an official responsible for access to information and providing training and awareness raising about the law and its implications to staff and elected members. These open state efforts could mirror those currently underway to include active judicial disclosures (e.g. court rulings, consultative and judicial decisions and annual reports) as part of the implementation of the Right of Access to Information Law and related e-portal.

Parliament is taking the first steps to provide access to relevant information. All laws adopted by Parliament are published on its website.3 This is of particular importance, as accessing the law as published in the official gazette is not free. The laws are however only searchable by year and session, not by title or topic of law. Parliament could consider making this section of its website more user-friendly. The website includes other features to provide information, such as members of the parliamentary committees which are published in a single pdf document.4 The minutes of sessions were last updated in 2013. The website also includes some information on upcoming meetings of Parliament. This website could become a hub for information regarding Parliament’s work through a more user-friendly design and more up-to-date information regarding, for example, minutes and draft laws under discussion.

Publishing draft laws for public information and even for public consultation is a common practice in OECD countries. As discussed in Chapter 7, Circular No. 21/2012 requires all public entities to publish draft legal texts on government websites and solicit consultation and feedback from stakeholders. Given this legal backing, Parliament could consider publishing draft laws before they are discussed in Parliament sessions, and inviting stakeholders to these discussions, which is of even greater importance as participation in committee meetings is invitation only.

There are ongoing efforts led by the Parliamentarians against Corruption, in partnership with the Westminster Foundation to enhance Parliament’s openness. These efforts include the drafting of a strategic plan for Parliament, which has not yet been approved, as well as suggestions to amend some of the Rules of Procedure to allow for greater openness, participation and digitalisation of the Assembly. As such, Parliament could build on the current momentum and the country’s commitment to open government to advance its own open government initiatives. It could create an informal working group of parliamentarians and administrative staff committed to open government principles to elaborate an action plan of initiatives to undertake, to disseminate the concept in Parliament and to co-ordinate efforts with the national government. The French and Moroccan parliaments, for example, adopted their own national action plans on parliamentary openness, which could serve as inspiration (see Box 8.2).

  • Parliament could consider institutionalising the practice of questioning government more regularly and allowing question sessions for stakeholder participants, such as civil society and the media.

  • Parliament could consider discussing the draft budget law and the audit report in public sessions and making all relevant documents accessible to the public.

  • Parliament could update its website, including with a more user-friendly design and more current information regarding minutes and draft laws under discussion.

  • Parliament could consider publishing draft laws before they are discussed in Parliamentary sessions and inviting stakeholders to these discussions.

  • Parliament could create an informal working group of parliamentarians and administrative staff committed to open government principles. This group could elaborate an action plan of initiatives to undertake, disseminate the concept in Parliament and co-ordinate efforts with the national government.

  • Parliament could enhance its application of the Right of Access to Information Law by appointing an official responsible for access to information. The duties of this role could also include providing training and awareness raising about the law and its implications to staff and elected members.

1 “Any one or more deputies may request the questioning of the government as a whole or a minister in a particular matter” (Article 131, unofficial translation).

2 Rules of procedure published in the official gazette No. 52 on 13/11/2003 www.lp.gov.lb/CustomPage.aspx?id=37&masterId=1.

3 www.lp.gov.lb/ViewLawYears.aspx.

4 www.lp.gov.lb/Resources/Files/fea96655-3ae4-43b0-accd-f4bd6c560299.pdf.

References

[4] Gherbal Initiative (2019), Transparency in Lebanese Public Administrations, http://elgherbal.org/projects/view/en/8 (accessed on 29 October 2019).

[1] OECD (2019), Open Government in Argentina, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1988ccef-en.

[2] OECD (2016), Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en.

[3] OpeningParliament.org (2012), Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, http://www.openingparliament.org/declaration (accessed on 29 October 2019).

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