A lot of public money has been spent – for instance on education, health and public sector salaries. But Lebanon has a bloated bureaucracy in which many people are hired for clientelistic reasons that support sectarianism. For instance, if you want to build a new school in a Sunni town, you will probably have to build schools in Shia or Maronite towns as well. Money is spent not according to need but to maintain sectarian balance – or so that sectarian leaders can demonstrate benefits for their own community.
Clientelism essentially means that money, goods or services are provided in return for political loyalty: ‘vote for me and you get something’. Public servants become assets of the politicians who appoint them; their role is to distribute all sorts of privileges to the politicians’ constituencies. These relationships become much more important in election years. The public administration has not been reformed because there is no incentive for politicians to change it.
All this explains poor services in Lebanon. There is no accountability: public servants report to politicians rather than the state, and certainly not to the citizens who are left requiring political connections to get any services beyond the most basic. While this encourages people to seek access to the state through politicians, it comes with a cost – of relinquishing political choice.
This problem has worsened since the war, illustrated by the numerous funds that have been set up. The Fund for the Displaced was put in the hands of Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), while the Council for Reconstruction and Development was managed by former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The leadership of the ‘Council of the South’ is allotted to the Speaker of the House, who becomes a kind of patron of southern Lebanon. All leaders want to show their constituents that they are able to negotiate hard with other sects and extract a bigger piece of the pie, but many also benefit personally.
Efforts to professionalise the civil service or institute more competitive recruitment processes are also political. All parties have to agree to respect the public administration. In the longer term this could be achieved through electoral reform to dilute political parties’ monopoly on power, introducing new parties and so increasing political competition. Recent positive developments include much deeper public scrutiny of the budget over the last couple of years by the Parliamentary Budget Committee, which helps to counter inefficiency or embezzlement in government spending.