Delegates: Sunny Huang

Delegates: Sunny Huang
School: Access Manhattan
Country: Lebanon
Committee: United Nations Development Programme
Topic: Decentralization and Local Governance
Since the fall of communism, the Eastern European states have struggled with the
power shift from a centralized government to a localized one. This process is called
“decentralization,” a political strategy used by states for different reasons. Decentralization is
a very important issue in former Soviet and Soviet-bloc states that gained their sovereignty
after the fall of the Soviet Union. Some states have found it necessary to decentralize because
of the fall of communism and its total authority, while others do it to provide more effective
representation of smaller, different ethnic groups within state borders. Decentralization can
be difficult in some states because of the presence of numerous different ethnic groups and a
growing distrust of government overall. While decentralization can be hard to maintain, there
are high benefits, if and when it works. Decentralization can improve economies, allow the
citizens to have a more empowered role in society, and build local services. As a result, local
governments would help citizens participate in the political process, and resources would be
more readily available to locals.
Since gaining independence in 1943, Lebanon has been known to have strong local
governments and has been a major proponent of decentralization. Our country is made up
primarily of only 6 governorates (equivalent to individual states)- Beirut, Beqaa, LebanNord, Liban-Sud, Mont-Liban, and Nabatiye- which may suggest a strong concentration of
power with the central government. While there has been some effort made towards
decentralization, the government system is still mostly centralized due in part to the size of
the country; being so small, it is much easier for Lebanon to operate with a central
government. However, while we state that Lebanon “shall be a single and united state with a
strong central authority,” we also believe that administration should be decentralized at a
local level, such as districts and other small units (municipalities) to insure there is local
participation in elections.
When civil war erupted in 1975, lasting fifteen years, local governments by necessity
lost power, and political decisions became more centralized for a number of years. Finally,
on October 22, 1989, Lebanon signed the Taif Agreement and ratified it on November 4,
1989. Negotiated in Taif, Saudi Arabia (hence the name) the Taif Agreement was reached to
end the civil war, to return Lebanon to political normalcy, and to legitimize Syria’s
occupation of Lebanon. In the agreement, decentralization was a central priority; for
example, one clause states that all municipalities “shall be reinforced with the necessary
financial resources.” In this spirit, municipal (smaller governments within a central
government) elections were held in 1998, which saw broad political and religious
participation. In total, balloting lasted four weeks, with 7,662 representatives elected to 700
municipal councils. The most recent elections were held in May 2004, when 15,300
municipal councils were elected.
The constant occupations by Syria and Israel have also compromised the role of
municipalities in Lebanon. Syria’s occupation began during the civil war in 1975 when we
asked for help to end the war. They subsequently maintained a military presence in Northern
Lebanon under the terms of the Taif Agreement where we kept a "special relationship" with
Syria; the Syrian occupation ended three years ago by mutual consent of the two nations.
Lebanon has been invaded and occupied by Israel three times, 1978, 1982, and 2006. Until
July, 2006, Lebanon had achieved a substantial degree of stability, with the rebuilding of
Beirut almost complete and tourism increasing in our cities, and we were looking forward to
a time of extended peace. Then the Lebanon War broke out and fighting between the Israel
military and Hezbollah caused significant damage around the country and numerous civilian
deaths. The fighting ended in a cease fire called by the UN Security Council on August 14 th
2006 and Lebanon began rebuilding once again.
Hezbollah, a political organization based in Lebanon, holds fourteen seats in
Lebanon’s Parliament and plays an important part in Lebanese affairs. Hezbollah emerged
originally as a militia in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1978, helping Lebanese
forces defend against Israeli armed forces, but today, they also provide social services such
as schools, hospitals, and agricultural services for thousands of Lebanese. Hezbollah has
created multiple social organizations in Lebanon, such as the Hezbollah Central Press Office
and the Jihad Al Binaa Developmental Association, which is responsible for numerous
economic and infrastructure development projects in Lebanon. Hezbollah currently operates
four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools and two agricultural centres that provide
farmers with technical assistance and training.
Lebanon has followed many European nations in signing contracts to share ideas on
how to improve functions in municipalities. We believe decentralization will improve local
schools and hospitals and stimulate the economy by spreading the money and making sure
that it is directed to services for people, which in turn creates jobs. Each of our municipalities
fixes roads and lights and provides public heath systems, along with other responsibilities. Of
course, along the way some municipalities struggle to function, especially in the poorer
sections, but some municipalities do work, and they work well. Because of our current
government system, we believe that because of our current government system, we are closer
to achieving democracy and better prepared for the democratic process, especially since we
already have open and fair elections around the country. Although Lebanon has made a
commitment to decentralize, there have been plenty of flaws. For example, the advantages of
technology have not reached most municipal governments; there were only 681,400
telephone lines in use as of 2006. Perhaps the greatest challenge is that there is not enough
money to allow most of the municipalities to flourish. To counter this, in 1987, we passed
Law 118, which increased municipalities’ financial autonomy to try to spread the wealth.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has played a major role in
establishing and maintaining good governance in Lebanon. UNDP has emphasized that
encouraging efficient government to work requires the participation and cooperation of the
state, civil society, and private businesses. UNDP has provided Lebanon with technical
support, such as sending experts to teach skills for the development of public institutions and
helping to formulate plans to reform the economy. They also assist in instituting
administrative and financial policies and legislation, and they support dialogue in our country
to form new initiatives on governance and civil participation and empowerment. Since 2005,
the UNDP has been involved with a project entitled Technical Assistance to promote
electoral law reform. In 2008, the UNDP launched a project to enhance our president’s
capacity on policy dialogue, communication, and national dialogue. The UNDP also has
helped make sure that our municipal elections are fair and free by promoting greater
transparency, participation, and independence.
Decentralization has failed in the past, and some countries still struggle with the
transfer from central power to local power. However, for the many countries where
decentralization has worked and is currently working, there is hope that the rest of the
centralized world will one day become free to have governments of their choosing. We
would like to set an example for the rest of the world that decentralization can work, and
demonstrate that when it does, governments can provide for their people efficiently.
Lebanon’s ultimate goal is to reach sustainability in every area of life, whether it is
economic, political, or cultural. Once we have established sustainability, we can provide our
municipalities with the resources to continue public services for our citizens and seek out
new improvements that will increase the living standard in our country. We urge the Eastern
European states to rely more on local government to empower their citizens and to allow for
free and fair voting. For this to transpire, central government would have to be behind the
movement towards decentralizing. This may sound like a paradox, but without strong central
government to lead the way, local government will not have the resources or the political
support to succeed. We believe that the post-Soviet Union states will someday find their own
way to a better form of government, and we are ready and willing to help them as much as
we can.