Don’t stop now

Five more draft laws Lebanon’s parliament must push through

Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri is headmaster of the world's most dysfunctional school

If Lebanese parliamentarians were school children, they would long ago have been expelled en masse. Far from merely forgetting to do their homework, they have been skipping class for an entire year; prior to this week the last law they passed was back in 2012.

So the very fact that they finally got together to pass a few bills is less a cause for celebration than an acceptance that they needed to catch up with their homework.

Amongst the bouquet of bills were both things to be cheered and measures leaving much room for improvement. Chief among the latter was the controversial domestic violence bill. Campaigners have already criticized it as it was heavily edited during Parliament’s committee stage, with the new version considerably weaker than the original.

Other laws passed included the decision to abandon the old rent law – which kept rents in some buildings artificially low – as well as regular employment for the national energy company’s contract workers.

It is important this newfound efficiency is the beginning of something, rather than a brief anomaly. Parliament must continue to push through urgent legislation.

One important new assignment for our legislators would be to enhance the effectiveness of the laws they just adopted by taking the legislation on urban planning and women’s rights to the next step.

But drafting new laws is not even the first priority. Due to the dysfunctional nature of Lebanon’s politics, dozens of worthy laws have been shelved indefinitely when they reached parliament. Here are just five that Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri should push through.

Civil marriage: This draft law, referred to cabinet earlier this year, would allow for couples of different sects to marry legally in the country. Yet the hostility of religious authorities means the law faces little chance of getting through parliament, at least not without significant changes.

Competitiveness: This bill, sent to parliament nearly a decade ago, aims to enhance competitive conditions in the economy by reducing government protections in key sectors over a five year period. Who could possibly object to a more streamlined, efficient economy? Sadly, it would directly effect the business interests of many of the country’s leading politicians and so has sat idle in parliament.

Decentralization: The principle of decentralization has been on and off the country’s agenda since the Taif Agreement was signed 25 years ago, with parliamentarians proposing a draft law in the middle of the last decade. Yet it finally appears to be close to going through, with the new cabinet committing to it in their policy statement and Sleiman working hard to push it through.

Freedom of information: Lebanon’s freedom of speech has been severely challenged in recent months, with numerous cases threatening both the media and online activists. One potential route around the problem would be a freedom of information law, as proposed by MP Ghassan Moukheiber in 2009. The law would give Lebanese citizens access to information from the state, a key power in prying open the corruption and inefficiencies that permeate the current system.

Public private partnerships: The country is in desperate need of new infrastructure, but the government is deeply in debt. Using private funding to develop the country could have a major positive effect on the structure and shape of the economy. To do so, the country needs the Public-Private Partnerships law backed by President Michel Sleiman.

These laws are really just the tip of the iceberg – dozens more merit-worthy laws sit in parliament’s drawers. The country’s parliamentarians must not stop now.