[Chapter One] | [Contents] | [Chapter Three]





The doctrine of the public responsibility and accountability of government to elected representatives of the people is one of the central features of democratic systems. Its main purpose is to protect the public interest by preventing or minimizing the abuse of the wide authorities entrusted to the executive branch of government. One of the important means for ensuring such accountability is through a variety of checks and controls exercised by legislative bodies over the executive and the public administration. In discussing the role of the British parliament during the 19th century, John Stuart Mill stated that "the proper office of a representative assembly is to watch and control the goverment: to throw the light of publicity on its acts, to complete a full exposition and justification of all of them which anyone considers questionable; to censure them if found condemnable..."16

Today, the role of legislative bodies in checking and monitoring the work of government is recognized by all democratic systems as almost of equal importance to their basic role of policy formulation through legislation. It is interesting to note that the concept of legislative oversight of government, which was originally associated with parliamentary systems of government, has been more rigorously and effectively applied in the United States which has adopted a presidential system based on the principle of separation of powers. It seems that the rise of mass and disciplined political parties and their role in parliamentary systems today has inhibited the role of the legislature in exercising proper control over the cabinet which is justifiably considered an extension of the majority party in parliament.

It is unfortunate that the literature on the topic of legislative oversight of government activities, in developed and to a greater extent developing countries, is very scarce indeed. But with the continuous and vast expansion in the role, functions and powers of modem government, and the increasing impact of governmental activities on practically all aspects of the daily lives of most citizens, this subject is assuming greater importance and urgency. Also the problem of widespread corruption and abuses of authority in the public service, especially in developing countries, in addition to the failure of internal tools of control and accountability have highlighted the need for identifying better ways and means for more effective accountability in the executive branch. In many countries of the world, improving government accountability has become a primary condition for restoring the trust of the people in government and dispelling the growing myth that effective and accountable government is not compatible with a free and democratic system of government.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the various checks and controls exercised by Parliament over the public administration in Lebanon, to identify existing problems and obstacles, and to recommend ways and means for improving the effectiveness of such checks and controls. The discussion will focus on the period since 1990 following the adoption of the National Conciliation Pact (NCP) in Taif, which marked the end of the civil war and resulted in some important constitutional amendments that changed, among other things, the nature of executive-legislative relationships and enhanced the prestige and influence of Parliament in a manner that enables it to play a more effective role in checking and monitoring the work of government.

The problem of legislative oversight of government activities, however, cannot be properly understood except in the wider context of the Lebanese political system, and in particular executive-legislative relationships, both before and after the 1990 constitutional amendments. In the following paragraphs we will attempt to briefly describe the main features of the Lebanese political system since independence in so far as they relate to the issue of legislative oversight of government.


Political System in Independent Lebanon: 1943-1990

The formal governmental system that was inherited from the French Mandate was in theory a parliamentary system, but in actual practice proved to be an odd combination of both the parliamentary and presidential systems.

Executive authority was vested in the President of the Republic assisted by a cabinet. The President was clearly the main locus of power and enjoyed extensive powers to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet and to dissolve Parliament. The Cabinet, although appointed by the President, was in theory, responsible to Parliament and needed its confidence to continue in office. In practice, however, the tenure of cabinet members depended primarily on the support of the President. Since 1943 there is no single case of a cabinet or a minister who was forced to resign as a result of a parliamentary vote of no confidence. But despite the seemingly formidable powers of the President, he was in practice constrained by a number of social, political and religious considerations that constituted serious limits to the full exercise of the powers officially entrusted to him.

In a country like Lebanon, plagued by sharp religious and communal divisions, the role and powers of the President, who was supposed to be the main integrative force in Lebanese society, could go only as far as the political consensus allows. Actually, the unchecked and unilateral use - and on some occasions abuse - of executive authority by some presidents has led over the years to a serious outcry by many political and religious groups about the lack of participation in the political process, and was undoubtedly one of the causes of the Lebanese civil war. The demand for greater participation was the most important problem addressed by the meeting in Taif and was resolved by strengthening the role of Parliament and transferring executive authority from the President to the Council of Ministers since all religious and political groups are equitably represented in these two bodies.

An examination of executive legislative-relationships during the period 1943- 1990 reveals that the balance of power was clearly tilted in favor of the President. Since 1943 different presidents have dominated, controlled, and often bypassed parliaments in the governing process. Parliaments have also displayed a notorious readiness to submit to the will of the executive thus enabling presidents to virtually decree any legislation they deemed necessary. This has prompted some politicians to refer to Parliament as an addendum to the executive branch, while others have complained of the fusion of executive and legislative powers.

There are many examples to illustrate the dominant role of the executive vis- è-vis parliament. The most important is the practice of delegated legislation whereby Parliament delegates to the executive the power to legislate through executive decreelaws. On several occasions the executive was given such powers in a number of important areas. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most important policies were enacted through decree laws by the executive rather than through legislative acts of Parliament.

Another important example is the power exercised by the President, subject to the approval of the Cabinet, in promulgating as law any bill which has been submitted to Parliament as urgent and which has not been acted upon during a period of 40 days. As an example, during the period 1959-1981, 557 such bills, some of which relate to basic policy issues, were promulgated in such a manner17.

A third example is the right of the President to request the reconsideration of any law passed by Parliament. When he exercises this right, he will not be required to promulgate this law until it has been reconsidered and approved by an absolute majority of the total membership of Parliament, which is not easy to secure.

A fourth example, is the power of the President to dissolve Parliament, subject to the approval of the Cabinet. The power of dissolution although exercised twice since 1943 was an important threat that helped intimidate Parliament and keep it in tow.

The Lebanese experience during the period 19943-1990 clearly indicates that the Lebanese parliament played a marginal and ineffective role both in law making as well as in exercising oversight of government activities. "The proposition set forth in this paper is that the legislature is an essential element in the Lebanese political system, although it makes only a minimal contribution to the policy-formulation and rule making functions and is not effective as a check on the executive and bureaucracy" 18.

Such a parliament which was not able to discharge its basic function of legislation because it was often usurped by the executive could hardly be expected to exercise effective oversight over government activities.


The Constitutional Amendments of 1990

The constitutional amendments, which were approved by the Lebanese Parliament in September 1990, were mainly based on the provisions of the National Conciliation Pact as well as on the spirit of the Taif discussions. The following paragraphs will briefly highlight the amendments which relate to executive-legislative relationships, and in particular the enhanced role of Parliament.

The main change relating to the executive is the transfer of most of the powers of the President to the Council of Ministers, thus creating a collegial leadership that ensures participation by all ministers in the decision-making process within the executive branch. Although the President was allowed to retain some of the less important powers that he previously enjoyed, it can be safely said that executive authority under the new constitution is primarily vested in the Council of Ministers. The main changes relating to Parliament were intended to strengthen its powers vis- è-vis the executive and to create a more equitable balance of power between the two branches. Actually a new provision in the preamble of the constitution states that the political system is based on the principle of separation of powers and balance and cooperation among the branches of government. Also, a new provision explicitly states that Lebanon is a democratic, parliamentary republic. The term of the Speaker was extended from one to four years to coincide with the term of the Chamber of Deputies. The selection of the Prime Minister, which was a prerogative of the President, was made subject to binding consultations conducted by the President with the Speaker and members of Parliament.

Another important change is the significant weakening of the power of the executive to dissolve Parliament to the point of making it almost meaningless19.

The power of the executive to promulgate as law urgent bills not acted upon by Parliament within a period of 40 days was curtailed by specifying that this period starts from the time a bill is formally submitted to a general session of Parliament rather than the time of its referral. Since 1990 no urgent bill has been promulgated as law by the executive despite the fact that a reasonably large number of such bills were submitted to Parliament which must be given credit for having behaved responsibly by making it a point to act on urgent bills within the forty-day limit.

The practice of delegated legislative powers that enabled the executive in the past to actually legislate through decree laws was discussed and strongly criticized during the Taif meetings. But it was decided that no constitutional change was needed in this regard since existing provisions in the constitution stipulate that no law can be promulgated without the approval of Parliament. It was agreed that a strict enforcement of this provision would guard against possible encroachments by the executive.

This practice has almost been completely discontinued since none of the four cabinets that assumed power after 1990 was granted legislative powers. Despite the repeated pleas of the present cabinet, which came to power in 1992, for special legislative powers in the field of administrative reform, Parliament has firmly refused to grant them.

There is no doubt that the above changes have helped to redress the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches in Lebanon. An examination of the record of the present Chamber of Deputies, which was elected during the summer of 1992, clearly shows that it has been able to assert its relative independence from the executive and to play a more active and vigorous role in the governmental process.

Since its election in October 1992, the present Chamber has, until early October 1994, held 47 sessions during which it has enacted 307 laws which is a record compared to any previous Chamber. Approximately fourteen percent of these laws were initiated by members of Parliament rather than the Cabinet, which is a high ratio compared to other more advanced parliamentary systems20. More importantly, the Chamber has introduced some important changes in many of the bills referred to it by the Council of Ministers. In one instance it has passed a law cancelling a decision by the Council of Ministers which had prohibited all radio and television stations - with the exception of the official government radio and television stations - from broadcasting political and economic news bulletins. This particular incident has resulted in some accusations of legislative encroachment on executive powers.

In addition, Parliament has activated a hitherto neglected provision in its internal regulations, which requires it to hold a special meeting after every four regular meetings to be devoted to questions, interpellations or general debate. Since 1992 six general debate meetings were held 21 some of which were quite critical of the executive.

These developments clearly indicate that since acquiring its new powers following the constitutional changes of 1990, Parliament has insisted on exercising them in full. This has created some backlash from a number of politicians including the Prime Minister, who claim that the balance of power has actually shifted in favor of Parliament. In order to correct this imbalance, some of these politicians are asking for strengthening the power of the executive to dissolve Parliament or limiting the legislative powers of the latter to certain fundamental areas, as is the case in France now.


Tools of Legislative Oversight

Despite the strengthened role and powers of parliament, Lebanon has not yet witnessed any noticeable improvement in legislative oversight of government activities. Members of Parliament in Lebanon see their main role as passing laws and exercising political and policy oversight of government. Oversight of the activities of the bureaucracy has so far received little attention from Parliament in Lebanon, even after the 1990 amendments.

The Lebanese constitution is silent on the issue of parliamentary control or oversight of the public administration despite the fact that the Taif National Conciliation Pact included a provision that "The Chamber of Deputies is the legislative authority and exercises comprehensive supervision over the policies of the government. and its activities". The constitutional amendment of 1990, however, have changed this provision to read as follows: "Legislative authority shall be vested in a single body, the Chamber of Deputies:"22. It is not clear why Parliament has voted to dilute its own powers in this respect. But as things stand now there is no constitutional mandate to Parliament in Lebanon like the mandate granted to Congress in the U.S. by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 to exercise oversight over the activities of the public service.

In parliamentary systems, however, this function is considered an integral part of the concept of cabinet responsibility to Parliament, both collectively and individually, where individual ministers can be held accountable for the proper functioning of their ministries. In Lebanon this interpretation is generally accepted and was recently asserted in strong and explicit terms by the Speaker in a meeting of the Chamber on October 18, 1994, in which he rendered an account of the accomplishments of Parliament since its election in 1992. The Speaker emphasized that parliamentary oversight (die term in Arabic is closer to supervision or control) of the activities of the executive is of the essence of a democratic parliamentary system and is complementary to the task of legislation. He added that the authority of government to execute laws is not an absolute one without any control or accountability but is conditional on the confidence of Parliament which should ensure that such execution is for the people and not at their expense23.

The oversight role of Parliament is also subsumed in its by-laws (articles 147-151) which allow it to create special committees to conduct special investigations into any problem. These committees can be accorded judicial powers to subpoena witnesses for questioning.

But despite the fact that the oversight role of Parliament is taken for granted, the legislature in Lebanon has not so far displayed any serious interest in exercising this role. The following pages will briefly discuss the various tools that Parliament can use, if it chooses, to exercise its oversight role.

Votes of no Confidence

Article 66 of the Lebanese constitution stipulates that ministers are entrusted with administering the services of the state and applying the laws and regulations, each within his jurisdictional domain. The same article also stipulates that ministers are collectively responsible to Parliament for the general policy of the government, and individually responsible for their personal actions. Article 37 of the constitution states that each deputy has the "absolute" right to ask for a vote of no confidence at any time during a regular or special session of parliament, without specifying the causes for such action.

But as was mentioned earlier, the Lebanese Parliament has failed to exercise this prerogative throughout the independence period, mainly because of its subservient role vis-a-vis the executive. Even after the constitutional amendments of 1990 which made Parliament a more equal, partner in the political process, the legislature has not withdrawn confidence form any cabinet or individual minister, despite the fact that on many occasions deputies had expressed their strong criticisms of the work of the Cabinet or some of its members. It must be stressed that the decision to withdraw confidence from an individual minister is not a matter to be taken lightly since it could upset the political and religious balance within the cabinet and lead to a political crisis.

It would be misleading to discuss the Lebanese political process, especially executive legislative relationships, without mentioning the increasingly important role of Syria in the internal affairs of Lebanon. According to a leading Lebanese columnist, a former prime minister, whose name was not divulged for obvious reasons, has said that since cabinets and individual ministers are prevented from resigning of their own free will, and since Parliament is prevented from withdrawing confidence from the government, the legislative branch has lost its ability to hold the former accountable for its activities and actions. As a result, the government is not any more afraid of Parliament or answerable to it to the extent that corrupt ministers who have committed offenses do not care about the attacks and criticisms of deputies since they are protected and supported from outside and their tenure in office guaranteed against the will of those inside24.


The Lebanese Constitution of 1926 stipulated that the Chamber of Deputies can impeach ministers for high treason or for failure to perform their duties properly. In case of impeachment, ministers will be tried by the Supreme Council. The constitutional amendments of 1990 extended the impeachment power to include the Prime Minister.

Obviously, impeachment is the tool of last resort in all democratic systems for enforcing accountability of the executive but is very rarely used, if at all. In Lebanon, however, impeachmqent was, for all practical purposes, a meaningless threat since the Supreme Council, which was provided for in the 1926 Constitution, was not actually established until August 1990, and has not yet become operational.

But even with the establishment of the Supreme Council, the impeachment of the Prime Minister or any minister is extremely difficult because its initiation requires 115 of the total membership of the Chamber and its approval two thirds of the total membership. Conviction in the Supreme Council is by two thirds majority of the total membership. Decisions of the Supreme Council are not subject to any kind of appeal to a higher authority, although they are subject to a request for a re-trial in accordance with the Lebanese criminal code.

Since 1943 there has been no attempt by Parliament to impeach any prime minister or minister. This is not surprising since, during the same period, Parliament has not seen fit to impose the milder penalty of withdrawing confidence from any cabinet or minister. The failure of Parliament to take such action is definitely not the result of the lack of cases deserving of impeachment, but rather of the fear of deputies to set a precedent that could be applied to them should they become ministers in the future. Parliamentary Committees

The present Parliament has thirteen standing committees whose jurisdiction corresponds closely to the functional jurisdiction of the existing ministries. The main functions of these committees is to review all bills submitted to Parliament, to hold hearings, not investigations, with the ministers and civil servants concerned as well as with interested outside groups, and to submit their recommendations to Parliament. During the period October 1992 to October 1995 parliamentary committees held approximately 726 meetings25 to review pending bills. In many instances, important changes were recommended by the committees and approved by Parliament as a whole.

The work of these committees, however, has so far been limited to a review of proposed legislation and has not included a review of the activities of the various ministries. It is not feasible for standing committees, in view of their extremely limited resources, to exercise on a continuous basis and at the same time their legislative and oversight functions. Also, without investigative powers, the work of these committees cannot possibly lead to any significant results. Although the bylaws of Parliament allow for the creation of special investigative committees with judicial powers, this prerogative has rarely been used since 1943.

General Debate Meetings

The bylaws of Parliament provide that after every four general meetings, a special meeting should be devoted for questions, interpellations or general debate. Prior to 1990 this requirement was somewhat ignored, since Parliament was not in a position to challenge the executive or even to question or criticize its activities. Since 1990, however, this article in the bylaws has been activated and applied to a limited extent. During the period October 1992 to October 1995, Parliament held six debate meetings in which deputies questioned and criticized the government on a variety of issues26.

These meetings, which sometime stretch over a few days, clearly reflect the vigorous and aggressive role which Parliament has been playing since 1990. However, they usually focus primarily on the policies of the executive rather than the activities of the various ministries. On some occasions these meetings have witnessed strong criticisms of the activities of the executive, although they never led to any votes of confidence. It is interesting to note that during the three years period 1992 - 1995 deputies have submitted 127 questions of which the government chose to answer only 82 and ignored the remaining 45 ones. During this same period only 5 interpellations, were made by deputies none of which led to a vote of confidence27 . The fact that the discussions in some of these meetings are carried live by television has certainly encouraged livelier debate and criticism as well as a good deal of posturing by deputies. But they have also helped to raise the level of consciousness among the public about the problems and shortcomings of the government.

It is difficult to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of these meetings as an oversight tool since everybody recognizes that, for all practical purposes, votes of no confidence are not permissible without Syrian approval. The futility of such debates was well expressed by former Prime Minister Mr. Omar Karami, who said, "We can brandish the weapon of a confidence vote but we cannot use it". But there is no doubt that the general debate meetings have provided an important forum for deputies for the public airing of their concerns and criticisms of government work and have heightened their sense of responsibility for checking and controlling the work of government. In the long run this development will certainly contribute to healthier and more democratic practices in the Lebanese political system.

A somewhat recent, and potentially important development, is the increasing use by some deputies and chairmen of standing committees of the press conference as a means to publicly air their criticisms of certain goverment actions. A good example of such a practice is a recent press conference held in early August, 1994, by the chairman of the Administration and Justice committee in which he strongly criticized the lamentable services provided by some ministries, especially in the area of the environment., telecommunications and public works and bluntly accused the Ministry of Public Works, of being under the control of some Mafia groups. In view of the immunity enjoyed by members of Parliament, they are at liberty to raise many delicate issues and mention names, something which the media is reluctant to do for fear of libel suits. Although such use of the media helps to focus attention on certain important problems and mobilize public opinion in support of these issues, it is sometimes intended as a means for self promotion by legislators.


Obstacles to Effective Legislative Oversight

It is quite clear that the oversight role of Parliament in Lebanon has, so far, been a limited and restrained one. This is the result of a variety of mitigating forces and factors. The most important of which will be discussed below.

Lack of Adequate Information

Legislative oversight of government depends to a great extent on the availability of adequate information about the programs and activities of the executive branch and the bureaucracy. As James Heaphy has observed, "Legislatures need their own independent sources of information because information gathered in government agencies is often not usable by the legislature", either because of "data pollution" or agency data bias to narrowly established missions"28. In many instances the lack of information is the result of deliberate withholding by the government. In other instances, governments might intentionally provide misleading information to influence the decisions of legislative bodies.

In the case of Lebanon, the lack of accurate, relevant and timely information is clearly one of the important constraints on the oversight role of Parliament. For over a year now a serious controversy has been going on in Lebanon, both within and outside Parliament, about the exact figures relating to such fundamental issues as the gross domestic product, national debt and interest on it, the budget deficit, and even the total number of government employees. As an example, when Parliament was discussing the possible cost and impact of a salary increase for government employees in 1994, it was supplied with widely varying figures by the Ministry of Finance and the Civil Service Council. An equally embarrassing incident occurred recently when a World Bank mission was informed by the Civil Service Council that the total number of government employees was 110,000 while the Minister of Finance insisted that the number was 150,000. In many important instances, members of Parliament cannot decide which figures to use as a basis for legislative actions. As one deputy recently put it, Lebanon is a state without statistics.

Another glaring example of the information gap is the failure of the Council of Ministers to communicate some of its official decisions to Parliament. Normally, only decrees issued by the Council of Ministers are published in the Official Gazette and are available to the public while some decisions are kept secret, although members of Parliament ultimately learn of them either informally or through leaks to the media. This has led the former Speaker of Parliament in May, 1995, to propose a law requiring the government to publish all decrees and decisions of the Council of Ministers in the Official Gazette within a period of 10 days. The proposed law emphasized that in the absence of needed information the principle of responsibility cannot be applied.

The lack of adequate information is the result of a variety of factors, in particular the destruction of the data base of the Central Administration of Statistics during the war, the lack of openness and transparency in the Lebanese government due, in great part, to the deep rooted tradition of secrecy inherited from the French and Ottoman rule, and the natural reluctance of the government to provide information that could prove embarrassing to it. As Max Weber has noted, "In facing a parliament, the bureaucracy, out of a sure power instinct, fights every attempt of the parliament to gain knowledge by means of its own experts, or from interest groups. The so-called right of parliamentary investigation is one of the means by which parliament seeks such knowledge. Bureaucracy naturally welcomes a poorly informed and hence powerless parliament - at least in so far as ignorance somehow agrees with the bureaucracy's interests"29. In view of the unchecked and rampant corruption among politicians and civil servants in Lebanon, the bureaucracy is naturally more determined not to provide any information that might expose such violations and irregularities.

Lack of Staff Resources

The lack of adequate information at the disposal of members of Parliament is compounded by the almost total lack of staff resources that can help deputies in conducting research and special studies which are an indispensable requisite for enlightened legislative and oversight work. With the increasing specialization and complexity of goverment work, it is extremely difficult for an individual deputy to properly comprehend the technical aspects and implications of the various bills under consideration. Deputies do not have the necessary knowledge or time to gather meaningful data about the activities of the government. Such kind of work requires the services of specialized full-time staff assistants, which very few deputies have.

At present, deputies in Lebanon are not allocated any offices or staff assistants. Parliament does not even have a library in its present premises. A new annex to the Parliament building, which is presently under construction, will provide for such a library and for limited office space for each deputy. Some of the wealthier deputies have offices and some staff of their own, but in most instances these staff assistants devote most of their time to dealing with complaints and requests from constituents, which normally take precedence over the other duties and responsibilities of deputies.

In 1985 a new Directorate General of Research and Studies was established in Parliament "to provide advice in all matters submitted to it by the Speaker, standing committees, deputies and other departments in Parliament, and to undertake research, studies and the collection of information and statistics needed by deputies in the performance of their duties... " Unfortunately, this unit has not become operational because of its failure to recruit properly qualified staff, presumably because of unattractive salaries. Its main contribution so far has been the publication of a useful quarterly journal entitled Parliamentary Life.

Relationships Between Deputies and the Executive

One of the main obstacles to effective parliamentary oversight in Lebanon is the special mutual-interest relationships that exist between deputies and the executive, including the bureaucracy. The Lebanese political system is still basically a traditional one with a limited role for modem organized political parties and where election to Parliament is dependent to a great extend on special favors and services that a candidate can ensure for his constituents. This in turn is dependent on the cooperation and assistance of the bureaucracy in providing such favors and services. The steady expansion in the functions and powers of the bureaucracy has inevitably led to a greater dependence by ministers and deputies on these special favors and services to maintain their political influence and ensure re-election.

As a result of such a situation, ministers and deputies have become brokers or middlemen between the bureaucracy and the citizens trading favors for votes. One of the top civil servants who maintains a daily record of the intercessions of politicians on behalf of their constituents has told the author that during the month of September 1994, he was subjected to a total of 118 such intercessions or requests. In return for special services and favors provided by ministers and civil servants, deputies reciprocate by ensuring political support and protection to them.

Under such circumstances it becomes extremely unlikely for a deputy to exercise checks and controls over his benefactors in government. Actually this peculiar relationship of clientalism and mutual-interest between the government and members of Parliament creates a vicious circle, which is difficult to penetrate, and encourages the perpetuation of the political status quo. The present Prime Minister, who attributes the failure of his attempt to purge corrupt civil servants in great part to political intercessions has, declared on more than one occasion that it is not possible to implement significant reforms in the public administration within the prevailing political conditions and realities.

It must be pointed out, however, that the role of deputies as brokers between the bureaucracy and their constituents has a positive side to it. In many instances, deputies intercede on behalf of their constituents to help expedite their legitimate transactions that might be neglected or unduly delayed by civil servants for a variety of reasons. With a highly routinized and unresponsive bureaucracy, such intervention by deputies represents a highly valued service to ordinary and helpless citizens who have no other effective means of appeal in such matters.

Lack of Political Accountability

The almost total lack of accountability in Lebanese politics is probably the single most important obstacle to the enforcement of bureaucratic accountability. If politicians are not willing to apply norms of proper conduct to themselves, they cannot convincingly demand their application to civil servants.

There are many indications that effective political accountability is a characteristic of reasonably advanced democratic systems, although the recent developments in some European countries suggest that even such countries have not been able to establish adequate checks and controls on the conduct of political leaders. In an emerging democracy like Lebanon, the concept of accountability is not part of the political culture and tradition. Despite the fact that the Lebanese constitution provides for the impeachment of ministers and their trial before a Supreme Council in case of improper or negligent conduct, no such case has occurred so far.

In 1953 the Lebanese government issued a decree law dealing with the problem of the illicit wealth of civil servants, deputies, ministers, prime ministers and presidents. It empowered a special committee composed of three judges and accorded full judicial power to investigate all cases involving such illegal wealth. Unfortunately, this law has never been applied. In 1954 a law was enacted requiring all officials entrusted with performing a public service to file reports about the amount and sources of their incomes. Here again, this law has never been applied. As of now, Lebanon does not have an official code of conduct for politicians, similar to the one for civil servants, which defines what constitutes illegal or unethical activities. Since 1943 no single deputy has been prosecuted for improper conduct in office except for few cases that involved criminal offenses.

As a result of this situation, politicians at all levels of government have felt free to indulge in all kinds of improper and corrupt practices without fear of punishment. The seriousness of the issue of political corruption in Lebanon came to light following a wave of accusations triggered by the arrest in October 1994 of a deputy for drug related offenses. In a statement made in Parliament, prior to his arrest, this deputy accused some ministers, deputies and the children of four persons in positions of high responsibility of drug related offenses. The annual report of the International Drug Bureau of the U.S. State Department which was released in February 1995 refers to the continued involvement of Lebanese officials in the drug trade.

In December 1994 the President of the Republic, in an unprecedented move, publicly accused a number of leading politicians of corrupt practices, including the former Speaker of Parliament, the current Deputy Speaker, a former Prime Minster and a prominent deputy. In subsequent accusations one of the deputies publicly accused the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and a number of deputies, that he did not name, of corrupt practices. Another deputy publicly accused the Minister if the Environment of collusion in one of the worst scandals that involved the import and burial of large amounts of toxic waste in some parts of Lebanon. More recently, a former prime Minister has accused the President of the Republic of the illegal acquisition of wealth while in office.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of cases involving corrupt practices by politicians holding public office, but rather a sample that indicates the alarming proportions of political corruption in present day Lebanon. The most shocking thing about it is that despite such public accusations by responsible authorities no action has so far been taken to deal with this problem. This situation has prompted 55 of the leading intellectuals in Lebanon to issue a public statement on December 10, 1994 deploring the deterioration in the level of conduct and morality in the political process and strongly urging the government to take the necessary measures to deal with this issue.

Under such circumstances it becomes extremely difficult to establish and enforce a system of compliance accountability in the public service. Actually, many Lebanese question the wisdom and usefulness of entrusting such politicians with the responsibility of checking and monitoring the activities of the public administration.


Improving Legislative Oversight

It is clear from the above discussion that Parliament in Lebanon, despite its enhanced role and powers, has not been able to play a meaningful role in checking and monitoring the activities of an increasingly corrupt and negligent bureaucracy. This is an important challenge that deserves greater attention and priority in any administrative reform effort in Lebanon. This might be an opportune time for an increasingly confident and independent Parliament to address this issue and introduce some changes that can strengthen its oversight role of government. The following suggested reforms can probably be implemented if Parliament shows the necessary will and determination:

Constitutional or Statutory Mandate

As was mentioned earlier, the newly amended constitution does not include any explicit provision about the authority of Parliament to check and monitor the activities of government. The authority of Parliament to check and supervise government activities is implicit in Articles 37 and 68 of the constitution, which give deputies the right to withdraw confidence from any minister and force him out of office although they do not mention anything about the causes that might justify such action. The implications here, as in other parliamentary systems, is that the Minister can be held responsible for the proper management of his ministry and for nay errors or abuses by civil servants within it.

The right and duty of Parliament to exercise oversight over the public administration, however, should be explicitly and officially incorporated in existing statues. Since it would be somewhat difficult to amend the constitution to broaden the definition of the functions of Parliament to include such oversight or monitoring function, it might be more practical to include such a new definition in the bylaws of the Parliament which can be changed by a simple parliamentary vote. The recent statement by the Speaker about the oversight role of Parliament referred to earlier is an important first step in this direction.

The inclusion of such a provision in the constitution or the internal regulations of the Chamber is not necessarily a guarantee of a more active and vigorous role of Parliament in this respect, but will certainly heighten the awareness of deputies of the important responsibility entrusted to them and help them assert their rightful role in enforcing bureaucratic accountability.

New Role for Parliamentary Committees

If Parliament is to be officially entrusted with the function of checking and monitoring the activities of the public service, it must be provided with the necessary instruments that will enable it to effectively exercise this role. Foremost among these instruments is expanding the role of parliamentary standing committees to include hearings and investigations relating to the management of all public service departments. Although the bylaws governing the work of these committees do not explicitly exclude the possibility of such hearings and investigations, they also do not explicitly accord such powers to standing committees. However, Article 147 of the bylaws of the Chamber, which stipulates that it can form special committees to investigate a particular issue or case, clearly implies that such investigations cannot be normally undertaken by standing committees. This has actually been the practice in the Lebanese Parliament where standing committees have refrained from investigative work which has so far been restricted to special committees created especially for this purpose on very rare occasions.

If it is not feasible to grant investigative powers to all existing standing committees in Parliament, it might be more realistic to create one or two permanent investigatory committees within the legislative branch which would be responsible for looking into all cases involving violations and abuses of authority in the public administration.

However, any move to expand the role of parliamentary standing committees to include investigations or to create new investigating committees must be accompanied by the appointment of full time specialized personnel who can assist these committees in effectively exercising this new role. Without such staff, investigating committees cannot be possibly expected to discharge such a responsibility in a satisfactory manner. At present, the almost total lack of such personnel, seriously inhibits the basic work of standing committees in scrutinizing proposed legislation and recommending appropriate changes.

It might be somewhat unrealistic under the existing financial constraints in Lebanon to expect the adequate staffing of all standing committees with the needed expert personnel. However, a reasonable first step in this direction would be the creation of a small pool of qualified staff within the Directorate General of Research and Studies for utilization by various committees as the need arises. This pool can be gradually increased over the years to properly meet the needs of standing committees in their legislative and investigative work.

The Court of Accounts as an Arm of Parliament

One important change which might significantly enhance the oversight role and capabilities of Parliament is the transfer of the Court of Accounts from its present location within the office of the Prime Minister to the Chamber of Deputies. The Court of Accounts, together with the Ministry of Finance constitute the main financial watchdogs of the government.

Since the control for the purse strings and public expenditures is the ultimate responsibility of legislative bodies, and since there is no lack of internal control agencies within the executive branch in Lebanon, we believe that the Court of Accounts can play a more effective role as an arm of Parliament. It would significantly enhance the oversight capabilities of Parliament by providing it with an important tool for conducting financial audits and investigations to identify abuses and violations. Such a move assumes greater urgency in view of the desperate need of Parliament for properly qualified staff to help it in its oversight work. This pattern of external control has been adopted by many countries, including Australia, Britain, Egypt and the U.S.

If such a move is ever contemplated by Parliament, the responsibility for supervising and directing the work of the Court of Accounts should preferably be entrusted to a specially elected parliamentary committee that could ensure for it the needed independence, neutrality and protection from undue political interferences.

Here again, it should be pointed out that such a move is bound to meet with vigorous resistance from the executive and the bureaucracy, especially at a time when the problem of the proper balance between executive and legislative powers in Lebanon is assuming greater importance.

Barring Deputies from Cabinet Posts

The question of whether members of Parliament should be barred from cabinet posts is a controversial one and has been extensively debated in Lebanon. The advocates of such a policy, which is followed in the U.S. as well as in some countries with parliamentary systems such as France, Norway and Switzerland, could help in weakening the mutual-interest relationships between ministers and the bureaucracy. Cabinet ministers who are recruited from outside Parliament are less likely to exploit the bureaucracy for special services and favors to constituents since they are not normally candidates for parliamentary seats.

Many argue that such a policy serves as an important tool in Lebanon's search to replace its traditional political leadership with new and modem elites, which is a key requirement for modernizing the whole political system.

Such an arrangement, however, could result in the selection of ministers who are political novices and who lack the political experience and professionalism of elective office which is essential in a cabinet post. More importantly, such a policy will exclude from the Cabinet prominent and popularly elected politicians whose absence could undermine the stability of the political system. Since the President and Prime Minister are not elected by the people, such a policy would deprive the executive in Lebanon from the legitimacy of popular election.

Other argue that in a parliamentary system duly elected representatives are naturally expected to assume executive office in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. This might be a fair assumption in reasonably advanced democracies where members of the legislature are elected on the basis of organized political parties with clearly articulated programs. This is certainly not the case in Lebanon where political parties in the modem sense of the word are seriously lacking and play a marginal role in the political process.

It must be added that the experience of Lebanon has shown that many, if not most of the ministers recruited from outside Parliament, quickly develop political ambitions and aspirations of serving in Parliament and ultimately resort to cultivating special relationship with the bureaucracy and the voters. In any case the advantages and disadvantages of such a change should be carefully studied and weighed before its adoption. A possible compromise would be to apply this policy on a trial basis and for a limited period of time that will enable us to assess its actual implications before resorting to any formal constitutional amendments.


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981116 PN - Email: ddc-info@aub.edu.lb