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From crisis management to public management, we are the state

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A group of young Lebanese researchers released Friday a three-part study revealing the depth of decay within Lebanon’s long-neglected public administration, and proposing a host of quick-win measures they say could help put the crisis-hit country on the path toward reform.

Surveying 429 employees at eight state agencies, the Youth4Governance research group found that 87% of the civil servants interviewed lacked basic stationary needed for their jobs. Slumping motivation was reported across all the surveyed institutions, including the Finance, Interior, Education and Economy ministries, affecting 65% of the respondents.

A significant risk of brain drain was clear among all age groups, threatening to eviscerate a public sector buckled by an economic collapse the World Bank says is likely one of the world’s worst since the 1850s. Two thirds of the civil servants aged 18-30 told the researchers they planned to quit their jobs and search for work abroad. That proportion fell to 31% among employees over 50.

Local and international calls for the deep reform of Lebanon’s public sector have for years fallen on deaf ears, with populist politicians co-opting the language of anti-corruption to mask their lack of action. The study lays bare how this has resulted in a cumbersome, yet feeble, administration that is ill-equipped to serve the population’s needs.  

In random interviews with 1,065 people across Lebanon, the researchers found that 75% of respondents described dealing with state institutions as either “hard” or “impossible.” Almost a third said they had witnessed public sector misconduct, oftentimes reportedly involving negligence, arrogance or corruption. Critically, public sector inefficiency was shown to be as important a concern for respondents as corruption.

The researchers, who conducted the study as part of a summer internship organised by Saint Joseph University and regional consultancy Siren Associates, say the way forward lies in centring public discourse around tangible solutions to enhance the public administration’s efficiency and efficacy.

According to the report, this involves a number of steps. Supporting the development of a civic culture that involves citizens in rebuilding and reshaping Lebanon’s state institutions is a key one. Locating change champions within the public administration and leveraging their knowledge to design the path toward change is another. And quick-win technical measures such as activating complains mechanisms, digitising services, and developing codes of conduct and staff competency frameworks will also play an important role, the researchers say.

To read in detail about the study, its findings and recommendations, please follow the links below.