Decrypting the State

Decrypting the State

GHIDA TAYARA

The multiple crises that have hit Lebanon since 2019 are the result of years of incompetent governance and flagrant corruption. And while many elements have contributed to the problems faced by the Lebanese state, the lack of accountability and transparency in the public administration and in governmental policies are fundamental ones. One way to overcome this is by moving toward a digitized government, whose benefits would include more transparency, less chaos, and greater accountability.

In March–April 2020, the Lebanese Central Inspection Agency launched IMPACT, or the Inter-Ministerial and Municipal Platform for Assessment, Coordination, and Tracking. IMPACT is an e-governance platform—the first of its kind in Lebanon—that caters to citizens, government employees, and nongovernmental organizations.

The idea of IMPACT began with the need for a platform that provided inspectors of the Central Inspection Agency with up-to-date data from different sectors of the government in a digital format. The project was developed by Siren Associates, a not-for-profit company specializing in public-sector reform, and funded by the British Embassy in Beirut.

Although it was initially built to collect data for audit purposes, IMPACT soon expanded its role with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, to a crisis management tool used by central and local government bodies and the Lebanese Red Cross. Furthermore, with the instillation of a nationwide lockdown, IMPACT provided the platform needed to manage citizens’ mobility permits. Most recently, the platform has been used to manage Covid-19 vaccine distribution efforts in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

The Covid-19 situation was not the only case in which IMPACT was used as a crisis management tool. The Beirut Port explosion of August 4, 2020 led to the development of a damage assessment module to map the damage sustained in government institutions and to estimate the cost of reconstruction.

Today, IMPACT offers an open data source to citizens, researchers, and media outlets enabling them to hold local and central authorities accountable for their policies. Additionally, it provides government employees and decisionmakers with tailored data to enhance the decisionmaking process, allowing them to make need-based decisions rather than arbitrary assessments. For example, parliamentarians have access to a specialized platform with metrics on different sectors, including, but not limited to, health, infrastructure, and the economy.

Moreover, the platform offers internal governmental modules such as the General Inspection Module, an up-to-date database on the public administration, allowing Central Inspection Agency inspectors to accurately detect challenges and opportunities for reform in the public administration. Other internal modules include the Administrative Acts Module, which records all decisions and circulars issued by ministries and public administrations. The advantage of this digitized archive is that notification alerts that can be sent out by the uploader to the relevant institutions through IMPACT. And finally, the Human Resources Module maps all positions in the public sector and identifies skills and qualification needs for appropriate resource allocation.

As part of its national rural development strategy, the Ministry of the Displaced has used IMPACT to digitally map all Lebanese towns and villages using a rural and local development survey. The survey publishes the demographic, industrial, agricultural, infrastructural, health, educational, touristic, sociocultural, and commercial characteristics of each village. It creates a data set enabling decisionmakers to design policies based on the needs of each area.

In April 2020, an aid distribution portal was launched on IMPACT with collaboration of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, municipalities, governors, local authorities, and civil society organizations, under the oversight of the Central Inspection Agency. The process consisted of mapping the needs, validating and cross-checking the data, filtering the recipients, and finally distributing the aid with measures to prevent digital fraud.

Given the effectiveness of IMPACT in identifying economically vulnerable households, it has also served as the registration platform for the ration card aid initiative. DAEM, or the ration card registration platform, allows citizens to register to receive aid. However, given that the poorest segments of the population might not have access to the internet or a mobile phone, and to ensure that the aid arrives to those who are most deserving, IMPACT is collaborating with local nongovernmental organizations by giving them training sessions on how to register families in need.

It is worth mentioning that the modern design of the IMPACT platform, unlike other government related websites, has played a role in its success thus far. The user interface is straightforward and easy to navigate. The different sites are easy to access and are evident on the main page. As for data visualisation, IMPACT showcases the data using responsive dashboards that highlight trends and patterns. Users are also able to export some of the data available. The model is accompanied by a strong and active social media presence, with a responsive team answering queries on Twitter and through creative visual content on Instagram.

The efficiency of IMPACT highlights the importance of collaboration between the private and public sectors. While IMPACT is owned by the Central Inspection Agency, its technological dimension is run by Siren, a private company. The private sector commonly has better resources than the public sector in terms of budget, technology, and human capital. As a result, private companies could complement the shortcomings of the public sector when given the opportunity to do so.

IMPACT is a significantly beneficial multipurpose digital tool. The platform pushes forward interministerial collaboration as well as close cooperation between the central government and local authorities. The platform is also a valuable decentralization tool that should be used more by the government. The transparency of the data collected and availability on the website enables citizens to take on accountability roles, and the data that is aimed at governing bodies enhances these bodies’ decisionmaking. Digitizing governmental processes can help reduce corruption, consolidate development efforts, and help reform the public administration. This aligns with the three main roles of the Central Inspection Agency—oversight, guidance, and development.

The Lebanese government should invest in the IMPACT platform by including more services that benefit citizens. By moving more of its operations into the digital world, the state would be better placed to reclaim the trust of its citizens.

Courtesy: (carnegie-mec.org)

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