Lebanon seeking to turn public sector citizen friendly

Interview with Lebanon’s Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform, Inaya Ezzeddine.
Sunday 07/01/2018
Inaya Ezzeddine, Lebanon’s state minister for administrative reform. (OMSAR)
Accommodating citizens. Inaya Ezzeddine, Lebanon’s state minister for administrative reform. (OMSAR)

BEIRUT - Promoting a citizen-oriented public administration through digital transformation aimed at combat­ing corruption and fostering account­ability and transparency is the challenging task of Lebanon’s Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR).

The mission might seem impossible in a country plagued by decades of a dysfunctional and corrupt public sector. However, Inaya Ezzeddine, minister of state for administra­tive development, insisted that where there is a will, there is always a way.

“There is a major problem of mistrust between the govern­ment in its different institutions and ministries and the citizens because of years of neglect, lack of modernisation and rampant corruption,” said Ezzeddine. “Citizens can hardly get good quality services on time and they have to resort to shortcuts and bribery to get served.”

“Lebanon cannot sustain such inefficient administration that still relies largely on conven­tional paperwork in the age of the internet. Digital transforma­tion is no more a luxury,” the minister stressed.

“It is the trend everywhere in the world and in a few years’ time, it would be very difficult for Lebanon to communicate with the outside world without having this soft infrastruc­ture.”

A smart administration does not imply the mere automation of work inside the ministries and public service facilities, Ezzed­dine explained. “If you have your files on Excel sheets it does not mean you are smart. Smart entails different work processes. It is a complete radical change in the mindset and in the way we are building the infrastructure for our work,” she said.

“If Lebanon wants to fix its hard infrastructure, such as roads, electricity and water, it needs an administration that is capable of handling projects and large amounts of money. You cannot do this in the best and most transparent way except if you have a digital administration. This is one way to track every single penny and mitigate the risk of corruption.”

OMSAR is conducting a major review of human resources management, including testing and recruitment schemes and the advance­ment and promotion systems.

“We are building capacities within the public sector by training people who can be trained and by bringing in new blood. All it takes to achieve that is to have the political will and support,” Ezzeddine added.

Promoting civil society’s contribution to policymaking, through an active and influential partnership that consolidates democracy, reform and eco­nomic and social development, is at the core of a citizen-centred administration. To that end, OMSAR has begun a programme opening channels of communi­cation to allow the assessment of the needs of the local communi­ties.

“The civil society in Lebanon not only complements the government but it replaced it in many instances when it was absent due to political instability. Through the AFKAR programme we are trying to set a good example of how this partnership can be positive, can push things forward and can be beneficial to everybody,” Ezzeddine said.

“The role of the civil society is very impor­tant because it sheds light closely on social problems that sometimes the govern­ment on purpose or because of political considerations chooses to evade,” she added.

The AFKAR programme allows civil society organisations input into projects through proposing measures, advocating changing articles or for enforcing the legislation. Civil society has spearheaded efforts against domestic violence, on mental health, access to government information and the amendment of the penal code on sexual harassment and punishment for rapists.

“At OMSAR, we are taking the first steps towards having an open government and make citizens our partners but we cannot do this without digital transformation,” the minister remarked. “Digital transforma­tion is a prerequisite for open governments; otherwise how can the government communicate with its citizens without having the means to put all your pro­jects, plans, ideas and expenses online?”

Ezzeddine insisted that digital transformation is inevitable for the reform and development of public administration. “It will reflect positively on the business environment, on investment classification and international indicators for business and for anti-corruption, in addition to enabling Lebanon to communi­cate with the outside world with the common tools that are now available,” she said.