Chapter 1. Introduction and context

Around the world, governments are facing increasingly complex challenges, including persistently low levels of public trust, rising economic and financial instability, and social fragmentation and polarisation. Meanwhile, citizens are becoming more vocal, particularly given the amplifying effect of digital technologies, and their expectations are growing for a more transparent and accountable public sector and better public services. These issues are especially relevant in Lebanon, where regional turmoil, political instability and sluggish economic growth have posed considerable obstacles.

Open government represents a changed understanding of the role of the state in a modern society that aligns with an underlying shift in the policy-making context. The OECD defines it as “a culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth” (OECD, 2017[1]). More and more countries have begun to introduce open government reforms as a catalyst for attaining broader policy goals such as improving democracy, fostering inclusive growth and increasing trust. However, beyond the intrinsic value of open government principles, the implementation of open government strategies and initiatives can also help improve processes and outcomes across the full spectrum of public policy.

A steady increase in the adoption of open government agendas and initiatives by multiple countries has served to establish this field of policy and to create a collection of international experiences and best practices. Since 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has provided a growing number of countries with a framework to undertake gradually evolving commitments to open up their governments. The OGP is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. It now counts over 90 members among countries and local administrations, which highlights the rapid expansion and evolution of this area of policy.

Building on the collective experiences of its members and partners, the OECD introduced the Recommendation of the Council on Open Government in 2017, the first internationally recognised legal instrument on open government. The adoption of the Recommendation followed on from more than 15 years of evidence-based analysis of open government strategies and initiatives, the OECD report, “Open Government: the Global Context and the Way Forward” (OECD, 2016[2]), as well as a successful online public consultation. The recommendation provides the substantive framework for all the work the OECD implements in this policy area and guides the work of the OECD Working Party on Open Government, which brings together OECD member and partner countries to discuss how to further advance open government and open state reforms.

For several years, successive Lebanese governments have taken steps to establish a national open government agenda; however, the context has been challenging. In particular, large-scale demonstrations erupted in October 2019, bringing about the resignation of the government. At the same time, the country has also been weathering a severe financial crisis, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, putting further strains on scarce human and financial resources. Most recently, the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut has underlined a number of public sector governance failures that must be addressed in order to rebuild trust between the citizens and the state. Although this context presents significant challenges for the new government, it also provides an opportunity and strong incentive to restore public trust through open government reforms. Accordingly, a focus on opening up the government is not only timely, but also in demand.

Even before the explosion in the port of Beirut, public discontent and demonstrations have been targeted significantly at the sectarian power-sharing agreement, which is accused of having facilitated a system of governance with low transparency and accountability. This has served to amplify the effects of political deadlocks and increase their frequency, and has discouraged citizens from engaging through traditional means in policy debates. A context where stakeholders have multiple avenues to hold their government accountable, and where they have transparent information and opportunities to contribute to public decisions, tends to improve policies and services.

A legacy of governance issues and public mismanagement is also held as a reason for the deterioration of the economic situation that has escalated into the current crisis. International partners made this connection explicit in 2018 in the context of the terms of the economic package agreed at the Economic Conference for Development through Reforms with the Private Sector (Conférence économique pour le développement du Liban par les réformes et avec les entreprises, CEDRE). Having grappled with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens, exceeding 150% of gross domestic product (GDP), Lebanon defaulted on bond repayments in March 2020, in line with widespread public demand that domestic needs are prioritised to ensure the continuity of essential services (Yee, 2020[3]). Looking ahead, repairing Lebanon’s credibility and restoring its access to global financial markets will rely on the successful implementation of governance reforms, in particular those addressing transparency and integrity.

Corruption is an important area for policy intervention, as recognised in the new government’s Ministerial Statement of 2020.1 For the past six years, Lebanon has scored 28 out of 100 (where 100 indicates the lowest corruption) in the Corruption Perception Index, an international measure of public sector corruption, which is below the regional average of 39 for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region (Lebanese Transparency Association, 2019[4]). According to the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), corruption in Lebanon has deteriorated from a score of 19.2 in 2015 to 12.0 in 2018, placing it in the bottom quartile. This is reflected in citizens’ perceptions, 99% of whom believed that there was significant government corruption and 96% of whom attributed corrupt practices to political parties (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, 2019[5]).

Against this background, the new government has placed considerable emphasis on supporting the National Anti-corruption Strategy 2020-2025, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in May 2020. The Office of the Minister for Administrative Reform (OMSAR), has played a prominent part in this area of policy, as it chairs the Anti-corruption Technical Committee and is represented in the ministerial committee, both of which were established in 2011. The National Anti-corruption Strategy is a significant step forward and builds on the existing framework and a set of international agreements, including the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Lebanon also announced in 2017 its intention to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which resulted in the enactment of Law No. 84/2018 on Enhancing Transparency in the Petroleum Sector.

Alongside steps to advance anti-corruption reforms, efforts to promote open, transparent, participatory and accountable institutions in Lebanon have recently gained renewed traction. In January 2017, Lebanon introduced its Right of Access to Information Law, a landmark step towards enhancing the transparency of the public sector. Likewise, the government has worked to develop a national action plan on the implementation of the law, and is currently in the process of developing an e-portal to support the proactive disclosure of information from obligated administrations.

In parallel, the country has been measuring progress against a set of 11 measures relating to good governance that it pledged to introduce within the framework of CEDRE. These include initiatives aimed at modernising the public sector through the draft Digital Transformation Strategy and a detailed mapping exercise by OMSAR of staff and resource allocation across the entire public sector, with the objective of creating efficiencies. Lebanon has also introduced better transparency in its public finances. For instance, for several years it has been publishing the Citizens’ Budget, a simplified version of the government’s annual budget prepared by the Institute of Finance.

Prior to the October 2019 protests, Lebanon had expressed interest in formalising its approach to open government by taking part in international legal and institutional frameworks governing this area of policy. Specifically, it indicated its intention to undertake the reforms necessary to be able to adhere to the OECD Recommendation on Open Government and become eligible for joining the OGP.

As for all countries aspiring to become OGP members, Lebanon needs to obtain 12 points of the 16 outlined in the OGP minimum eligibility criteria in order to qualify. Currently, Lebanon meets criteria for 8 points. To obtain the additional 4 points necessary, the country needs to introduce reforms in any one area of citizen participation, budget transparency, and disclosures related to elected or senior public officials. Budget transparency presents an area in which Lebanon could make rapid gains. Accordingly, Lebanon could gain 4 missing points by publishing the executive budget proposal and audit reports for recent years. Based on the Law on Asset and Interest Declaration and the Fight against Illicit Enrichment, which was adopted on 30 September 2020, disclosures related to elected or senior public officials are required but not yet made public – the country could gain 2 points when declarations become public. Another 2 points could be gained in the citizen participation category if Lebanon improved its score on the Civil Liberty Indicator of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index from 4.71/10 in 2019 to 7.5/10.

The “OECD Open Government Scan of Lebanon” aims to support the government’s efforts to build more transparent, participatory, and accountable institutions that can restore citizens’ trust and promote inclusive growth. It analyses priority areas of reform in line with the 2017 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government and provides concrete suggestions for further embedding the principles and practices of open government in policy-making cycles and evaluating their impacts. Ultimately, this analysis can serve as the foundation to define and pursue a whole-of-government vision for a more open government in Lebanon.

This Open Government Scan of Lebanon benefits from ongoing support and dialogue with successive Lebanese governments and the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR), which has over the past years taken steps towards establishing a national open government agenda in Lebanon. This continuous commitment was initially affirmed by former Minister May Chidiac, who formally announced OMSAR’s engagement in this process as well as the Government’s intent to work towards adhering to the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government and joining the Open Government Partnership, during a high-level conference co-organised with the OECD and under the patronage of the Prime Minister in June 2019.

This commitment has been re-affirmed at the beginning of 2020 by Minister Demianos Kattar, who subsequently expressed Lebanon’s commitment to continue its joint work with the OECD in pursuit of an open government agenda for a more transparent, participatory, responsive, and trustworthy public administration. Building on these steps, the findings of this analysis have benefitted from the extensive review by OMSAR and from discussions with several representatives of relevant Lebanese institutions and civil society organisations as well as international organisations active in the promotion of good governance reforms Lebanon (i.e. OGP, UNDP, World Bank) and peer reviewers from Canada and Italy.

Developing a strategy or a long-term agenda is a core step towards achieving the vision of a more open government. Chapter 2 looks at how Lebanon can bring scattered open government initiatives under one roof, strengthen their coherence and gain a stronger mandate. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss framing this vision within a sound enabling environment, including a comprehensive regulatory and legal framework and as an institutional framework that supports the effective implementation of reforms and initiatives. Given that an open government agenda or strategy needs to be continually evaluated and revised, Chapter 5 discusses how Lebanese officials can ensure that they are gathering insights and evidence to measure impact.

Subsequent chapters address how Lebanese citizens are informed, engaged and brought into the decision-making process. Chapter 6 analyses how public communication is a central function of an open government and how it can increase the impact of transparency measures by providing information to the widest possible audience. As noted in Chapter 7, Lebanon has begun integrating participatory mechanisms in some of its policy processes, which can be further expanded in the future, drawing on the valuable insights of the country’s strong civil society.

The final chapters of the scan provide an view of how Lebanon can integrate the concept of an “open state” into its open government vision or strategy (Chapter 8), outline the necessary steps to attain eligibility to join the OGP (Chapter 9), and institutionalise open government practices at the decentralised level, including in the municipalities of Shweir and Jbeil (Byblos) (Chapter 10).

In developing the analysis and recommendations, the open government scan has been based on an Open Government Survey to which the Government of Lebanon, under the leadership of OMSAR, replied in September 2019, and builds on a peer review mission conducted in September 2019 with the co-operation and support of then Minister of State for Administrative Reform, as well as the participation of various ministries, departments, and agencies.2 The data collection for this report and its drafting were finalised before the explosion in the port of Beirut and the ensuing government crisis. However, Lebanese public institutions had the opportunity to review its findings during the month of August 2020 and confirmed the validity of its recommendations. The OECD is currently working with OMSAR to develop an action plan to implement them.

This scan has also benefitted from the expertise of OECD peers from Canada and Italy, namely Sarah MacLeod (Analyst/Advisor on Open Government, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat) and Marco Marrazza, Head of Department Office, International Relations, Presidency of Council of Ministers, Department for Public Administration. At the local level, the open government scan was developed on the basis of an OECD survey targeting Jbeil (Byblos) and Shweir, as well as interviews with mayors, councillors, municipal administration and local civil society.

1 See http://www.pcm.gov.lb/Library/Images/Hok76Ministers/w76n.pdf

2 These include representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office; Ministries of Information, Finance, Interior and Municipalities, and Justice; the Court of Audit; Central Inspection Unit; the Central Administration for Statistics; the Access to Information Technical Committee; the Technology and Information Parliamentary Committee; the Higher Education Committee; the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative; Gherbal Initiative; the Lebanese Transparency Association; Nahnoo; and SMEX.

References

[5] Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (2019), Citizens Believe the Government Should Prioritize Tackling Widespread Corruption, https://www.lcps-lebanon.org/featuredArticle.php?id=215.

[4] Lebanese Transparency Association (2019), “How will Lebanon’s “Let’s get to work” government face the challenges of corruption?”, Online article, https://voices.transparency.org/how-will-lebanons-let-s-get-to-work-government-face-the-challenges-of-corruption-4872f9bc6743.

[1] OECD (2017), Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0438.

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

[3] Yee, V. (2020), “Lebanon Will Default on Foreign Debt Payment Amid Deepening Economic Crisis”, Online article, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/07/world/middleeast/lebanon-debt-financial-crisis.html (accessed on 2 July 2020).

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