Berytus Nutrix Legum, or Beirut as cradle of the law in its Latin expression, has lost all meaning in times such as these, when our national institutions have become decrepit due to the decay of the political culture of the ruling class. As a result, local authorities (municipalities and federations of municipalities) are one of the few remaining legitimate institutions in the country, making it even more crucial, for the future of democracy in Lebanon, to hold the municipal elections in their due phase.
It is in the name of democracy that Beirut Madinati (Beirut My City) has emerged as a political campaign to run in elections for the Municipal Council seats in Beirut. The negligence of past municipal councils in managing local prerogatives and taxpayers’ money has for many people engraved the idea that municipalities have little to no power and that decisional mechanisms strictly lie at a national level. This is simply not true.
The Municipal Act governing the organization of municipalities in Lebanon (Decree-Law 118 dated 1977 and amendments) lists an impressive set of prerogatives. The “Municipal Council shall be in charge, without limitation” of the budget, loans and donations, as well as “planning, improving and expanding the streets, establishing gardens and public places… establishing shops, parks, racing places, playgrounds, toilets, museums, hospitals, dispensaries, shelters, libraries, popular residences, wash houses, sewers, waste drainage and others” and much more in terms of transportation, economic development, education, culture and heritage.
[pullquote]The Beirut Madinati campaign is out to convince the 470,000 Beirut registered voters to upset the power balance at the local level through the vote[/pullquote]
With over 800 million dollars in budget surplus admitted by the present mayor of Beirut in Executive magazine in December 2014, and regardless of the transfers of the problematic Independent Municipal Funds, very little was actually invested in the city’s livability and the well-being of the people.
Committed to responding to the needs and necessities of those living, working, studying and transiting in the capital, Beirut Madinati has presented an alternative to those inefficiently running the city, in order to restore the municipality’s prerogatives. To that end, this political campaign, led by independent and non-partisan citizens and supported by a multitude of experts and specialists, has developed a comprehensive municipal program and vision for the city.
Concretely, this will mean establishing a suitable working relationship with the governor (or mohafez), the actual head of the executive authority in Beirut – a unique configuration unlike the other municipalities in the country. What is considered by many an obstacle to implementing projects in Beirut in fact simply represents the result of a lack of political will in building professional institutional bridges between the different offices that should be cooperating for the benefit of public interest in the capital. If elected, a Beirut Madinati-led Municipal Council would adopt decisions and regulations in line with the current law and legislation, aimed at achieving local human and socio-economic development, all of which do not constitute any grounds for obstructive strategies by the governor who is bound by law to enact the public good.
On the level of economic development, a Municipal Council run by Beirut Madinati elected officials would work on confronting the growing rate of unemployment and urban poverty. In the short term, the Municipal Council would institute a lasting communication channel with inhabitants’ representatives through existing condominium committees and to-be-established neighborhood committees, thereby voicing priorities and specific needs in terms of social and economic development.
In the long run, throughout the six year mandate, improving basic infrastructure in areas such as roads, traffic safety and housing needs, highlighting cultural and natural landmarks (Dalieh for instance), restoring public spaces and green areas, and establishing community centers and public libraries will create jobs in both public and private sectors and stimulate the local economy and cultural enhancement. The municipality will also contribute to reducing the cost of doing business in the capital, especially for young entrepreneurs and start-ups in strategic sectors (tourism, technology, ecology, etc.) through the provision of quasi-free and subsidized working sites. Commercial streets with local shops, merchants, craftsmen and artisans will be supported through urban design planning strategies providing sidewalks, parking spaces and a comprehensive public transportation system that will greatly improve access and mobility to these areas. Fiscal incentives, lawful and possible within existing mechanisms, will also relieve some costs for the private sector entities sharing the municipality’s vision for a sustainable and greener Beirut.
The Beirut Madinati campaign is out to convince the 470,000 Beirut registered voters to upset the power balance at the local level through their vote. By focusing on dealing with the daily problems of the people in the capital through responsible, transparent and participatory means, the campaign aims to purge the realm of local governance from controversial and divisive issues that capture the entire attention and interests of both the March 8 and March 14 political formations and beyond.
It is time for an independent generation of political militants to step up in order to tend to the basic concerns of the citizens that keep being disregarded by those in charge (the waste crisis being the most recent illustration). Beirut Madinati aspires to contribute to the emergence of a new Lebanese breed of respectable and upright policymakers, achieving a better future for the next generations in Beirut and the country.