Local Government History
Historically, Lebanon has had strong local governments and a commitment to decentralization. During the civil war, municipal governments lost much of their power and independence as decision-making became centralized and many public services were eliminated or privatized. The Taif Agreement signed in 1989 makes decentralization a high priority for the Lebanese government. Despite this, municipal elections were postponed 23 times before being held in 1998. These elections saw broad political participation by most political parties, except for a few Christian groups that boycotted the non-confessional nature of the voting. Citizens were allowed to vote across religious lines for closed-party lists with proportional representation for the different confessional communities. The balloting, which took place over four weeks in May and June, elected 7,662 representatives to 700 municipal councils.
Lebanon is divided into 6 governorates (mohafazat, singular - mohafazah); Beirut, Beqaa, Liban-Nord, Liban-Sud, Mont-Liban, Nabatiye. With 92 per cent of the population living in cities and towns Lebanon has over 600 municipalities, but the system of local government remains highly centralized due to the size of the country and the nature of the confessional system.
Municipal and Local Government Budgets
Lebanese muncipalities enjoy budgetary autonomy, but they are not allowed to borrow. An Independent Muncipal Fund channels some funds to them from the central government. Approximately half of Lebanese municipalities have revenues and expenditures of between US$ 6,000-60,000 per year. Less that 30% have a telephone line, and it is estimated that only 30 out of 700 have an adequate tax base to provide local services. Part of the difficulty is that municipalities are governed by a uniform system of regulations and laws that do not allow for flexibility based on capacity and capability. The involvement of Syria in Lebanon has also tended to centralize the government and reduce the role of municipalities. Most municipal governments are not functional because they cannot collect revenues or provide services; most municipal projects have been assumed by the central government or private industry.
Local Government Budgetary Reform
In 1997, Law 118 was passed to increase municipal financial autonomy. Although data does not exist to demonstrate its effectiveness, it has probably increased local revenues. Currently, municipalities receive funds from over 35 different sources, making local budgeting and finance difficult. Most of this funding comes from fees and tariffs collected by the municipalities; taxes collected by the central government for municipalities, fees collected by private institutions that are transferred to municipalities, and tariffs and fees collected by the central government and then transferred to local institutions. Additional funds for local development projects will be available through the Independent Municipal Fund under the Ministry of Finance, but no clear figures on the fund are available.
Reform: Fiscal Decentralization
Political support within the central government for decentralization is uncertain. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs supports reform, but no cabinet or parliamentary consensus has developed yet. In principle, political leaders support decentralization to streamline the central government and improve both efficiency and accountability. But implementation remains uncertain given the political climate in Lebanon. The 1989 Taif Accord of National Reconciliation specified strengthened municipalities and administrative decentralization at the qada level and below. But this has not been the priority of successive governments. There is, at best, an effort for deconcentration, which would lead to an increased number of central government employees. The central government is undertaking more projects on behalf of municipalities, and the citizens and the municipal councils accept this.
Municipal and neighborhood-level mayors [Mukhtar] elections in Lebanon took place in May 2010 in four rounds. The first round was held in Mount Lebanon, the second in Beirut and the Bikaa, the third in South Lebanon and the fourth in North Lebanon. The election process involved 964 municipalities of which 212 or 22% were uncontested. Another 7 municipalities did not hold elections for reasons relating to withdrawal of candidates or to decisions made by the government for special reasons. The number of registered voters was 3,311,000 and the participation rate was around 74% for the 4 rounds. However, one cannot speak of an average rate of participation because the voting rate was very low in some municipalities and very high in others. The total number of candidates in all 4 provinces was 24,000 (males and females) who competed for 11,424 municipal seats. Women comprised 6.5% of total candidates. At the neighborhood-level mayors (Mukhtar) elections there were 6053 candidates of both sexes who competed for 2578 seats. Women comprised 33.2% of those candidates.
Earlier Local elections were held in May 2004, to elect 15,300 mukhtars and municipal councilors. Turnout tended to be low, reaching only 20% of the voters in Beirut because of dissatisfaction with the electoral law, and it was not much higher in Tripoli. Only in Mount Lebanon and in the South, where Hizbullah won 87 out of 142 contested municipalities, was the turnout high. Although the list supported by Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in his home town of Saida was defeated, his list won in Beirut, and that of a potential rival as prime minister, Omar Karami, lost in Tripoli.
Local elections were also held in May and June 1998. In 2001 another round of municipal elections took place in the newly liberated areas of South Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000.