THU 22 - 8 - 2019
 
Date: Jun 28, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Toward an open government in Lebanon
Hiba Huneini
Under the patronage of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Development and the Public Governance Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development launched Monday the “OECD Cooperation with Lebanon on Good Governance” at the Grand Serail.

The process is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative. The areas of cooperation are: public communication, open government, digital government and access to information.

Hariri vowed in a ministerial statement to enhance good governance as one of the key reform agendas that the government pledges to undertake.

The government is taking various measures to promote a culture of good governance and reach the level of an open and digital government in order to meet citizens’ demands and needs. As Lebanon is facing various economic and political hardships, open government has an effective impact on the socio-economic reality of the society.

According to the Open Government Partnership’s “Global Report,” “democracy is often defined by the ballot box, where citizens determine who will represent their interests in government.” However, it adds, “challenges to democracy come less frequently from vote theft or military coups; they come from persistent threats to activists and journalists, the media, and the rule of law.”

The perception of citizens that the government is corrupt, ineffective and unresponsive is due to a lack of proper institutional communication and engagement of citizens in policymaking.

“Open government” is defined by the OECD as a “culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability, and stakeholder participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth.” Moreover, there is a strong correlation between transparency and economic development, since the first helps citizens and investors take better decisions about the latter. Confidence in the market and decisions to invest in the country are largely affected by the level of transparency and accessible information.

Transparency and access to information are ingredients of good governance. But they alone are no longer adequate, as it is a matter of using the information, and citizens must know how and whom to hold accountable for the information and data they are accessing. Thus, socio-economic development and the restoration of citizens’ trust in the government and public institutions are ensured by having legislative reform enactment and amendments. Certain measures and actions need to be taken by the government, such as public communication and utilization of digital technologies to create structured dialogue between all stakeholders and the government. Dialogue must not be a unilateral action or a monologue, but two-directional and a process of mutual exchange to integrate all shared inputs from the public and to hold the government accountable.

Initiatives and actions for achieving an open government in Lebanon are not a strategic long-term objective; however, they are an immediate necessity to overcome economic challenges, reform public institutions and implement the needed reforms for the awaited international support for projects presented at last year’s CEDRE conference.

Lebanon’s overall economic competitiveness - 105th of 137 - is severely harmed by the low ranking of its institutional effectiveness (125th of 137). This observation is supported by the fact that Lebanon is ranked 52nd in business sophistication and 58th in innovation.

Improving our governance system is key to improving our economic competitiveness.

In addition, open government policies and strategies should not be limited to ministries, but must also be implemented at the level of governorates and municipalities. Such strategies would enhance local governance and combat developmental challenges at the local level.

Therefore, open government is a holistic approach to be taken at various levels in the state, as it is the milestone for any strategic reform that will occur at the social and institutional levels.

Hiba Huneini is manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2019, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
 
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