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Unlocking opportunities in Lebanon’s Vehicle Registration Office: a fresh approach from a legal standpoint

| By Sarah El Ghoul |

Lebanon’s Vehicle Registration Office (VRO), responsible for providing essential vehicular related services, has faced many challenges in recent years. This has added to the dangers on Lebanon’s roads, with countless plateless vehicles flowing through the streets posing a real threat to safety and security. As Lebanon functions with a limited public transportation system consisting of only buses and taxis, individuals rely heavily on their own cars. With the VRO as the only place in the country to obtain a driver’s license and register a car, it being closed indefinitely is a major inconvenience. 

As Y4G interns, we were given the opportunity to delve deep into the operations of the VRO and its parent organization, the Traffic Management Office (TMO), to understand its current challenges, while attempting to map out the system and catalog its shortfalls. Our work explored three key areas: the legal nature and autonomy of the organization, staffing, and financial resource management. 

Numerous deep-rooted issues  

Through desk research and field work, we became aware of the main elements that structure and drive the Traffic Management Organization’s (TMO) operations. This enabled us to identify several challenges facing the institution. These include the economic and financial crisis, the corruption scandal and the resulting decrease in the number of employees (official number of 114 down to 24), and the multiple closures due to COVID-19, investigations and arrests.  

In addition, an analysis of the legal and financial framework revealed that while the TMO on paper is endowed with both administrative and financial autonomy, the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM) – as the TMO’s tutorial authority – must approve most of its decisions. The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is also the financial controller of the TMO and thus makes many decisions affecting it. Nowhere in the TMO’s financial by-laws is it mentioned that, similar to other autonomous public institutions, it can establish an investment system where self-generated revenues feed into a fund owned and managed by the institution. The lack of resources, both human and financial, consequently affects TMO’s operations. It has also displayed absent or outdated procedures, a lack of organization, crumbling infrastructure, and limited modern technology-based solutions, all leading to poor and inefficient services. In addition to the prevalence of bribery and middlemen, it takes multiple visits to complete a single transaction.  

As part of the project, we reviewed and analyzed the laws governing the institution and suggested some amendments to the financial regulations so it can establish a suitable investment fund. In addition, we brainstormed with financial and public policy experts on funding sources to ensure better service delivery. We also reviewed the income that allows the TMO to invest in crucial areas, such as infrastructure and capacity building for its human resources.  

Recommendations for a more effective and sustainable TMO 

As legal interns, this journey allowed us to uncover significant opportunities for improvement. After careful examination, we suggested developing a strategic plan to introduce value-added services that can generate additional revenue and implement cost-control measures, including efficient procurement practices to optimize the allocation of funds and ensure resources are used judiciously. The TMO must acknowledge financial independence while maintaining its accountability to the government and the public. Clear legal boundaries should be established that outline the office’s decision-making authority, financial management, and reporting obligations. 

With regard to optimizing human resource practices, we believe that the morale, image and attitude of the department can be improved greatly by redefining the role of staff and their functions, and filling vacancies with qualified personnel while enhancing the skills of existing employees.  

By reviewing the organization’s legal status and enhancing financial management, the administration can unlock its full potential. The newly drafted financial regulation and suggested amendments to internal regulations will serve as a blueprint for a more efficient, citizen-centric, and financially sustainable future.  

In conclusion, change is on the horizon, and the TMO can be transformed into a fully functioning model institution with some focused initiatives and governmental support. We were honored to be part of this project and look forward to watching the overall transformation over the coming months and years.