The concepts of resilience and stability in governance have taken on new dimensions with the digital age. According to the World Bank, e-government refers to the use by government agencies of information technologies that can transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. Among the resulting benefits of e-government are reduced paper consumption, shorter commute times, faster transactions, greater ease-of-business, improved administrative tracking, greater transparency, and thus reduced corruption.
In October 2018, after almost 10 years of discussion in different parliamentary committees, Lebanon passed Law number 81/2018 on E-Transactions and Data Protection. At the time, this signalled the ushering of a new era of e-governance in Lebanon. But, almost four years later, the law has not yet been implemented. Joining a host of 70+ laws that have been passed in the past decade, but whose implementation has been hindered by legal or institutional obstacles. In the framework of supporting the role of parliaments in performing post-legislative scrutiny (PLS), WFD joined forces with the Digital Transformation and Governance Network (DTGN). This partnership helped advocate for the implementation of the Law in close coordination with the Lebanese Parliament’s ICT committee.
The DTGN is a coalition of CSOs, which WFD helped establish in June 2019, that aims at advancing the digital transformation sector in Lebanon. Originally known as the Digital Transformation Network (DTN), the network acquired its current name in November 2021.
Importance of the law – especially now
Lebanon has been facing an economic crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst three crises since the mid-19th Century. Hyperinflation rates have exceeded 400% and have been coupled with a freefall of the Lebanese Lira, which has lost more than 90% of its value since October 2019. The public sector has lost most of its human resources, with remaining personnel staging frequent strikes, attending work only on a part-time basis, and under-performing due to lack of motivation. Moreover, the severe shortage in public funds has translated into a physical shortage of paper and stationery supplies.
This compounds the challenges for Lebanese taxpayers, who are facing long delays and waiting times for essential services and administrative tasks. For example, waiting lists for passports were six months long as of April 2022 – resulting to endless queues and countless cases of citizens unable to leave the country. Many of those stranded missing out on business and professional improvement opportunities – which further adds to the economic and unemployment crisis. If the law on E-Transactions and Data Protection had been effectively implemented, it would have reduced the challenges that result from the current physical needs of paperwork.
Helping revive the law’s implementation
To get a better understanding about the barriers facing the implementation of the Law, DTGN and the Chair of the ICT parliamentary committee met with the Ministries of Justice and Industry. The meetings pointed to one main obstacle: the Law assigns a key role in its implementation to the Lebanese Accreditation Council (LAC) – a state agency that is yet to be created. Both ministries expressed their support for the LAC but stressed that they required technical support to advocate for it. The DTGN offered this technical support through an in-depth study on the importance of the creation of the agency. The study was shared with the office of the prime minister and the issue of establishing the LAC added to the agenda of one of the cabinet meetings. Although the issue has not yet been discussed, DTGN is aiming to continue advocating for this issue with the new government that will replace the current caretaker one.
The momentum unleashed by the DTGN towards the implementation of the Law has succeeded in putting this crucial policy item on the table after a four-year halt. Furthermore, this effort has created a working point of reference for the DTGN, the ICT parliamentary committee, and the Ministries of Justice and Industry. This is an invaluable instance of parliament-cabinet-civil society collaboration that can be built upon.