Decentralization: A Solution for Beirut’s Garbage Crisis?

In January 2016, I attended the Beirut Exchange Program in Lebanon organized by, which allowed me to examine the socio-economic climate of Beirut and engage directly with some of the leading intellectuals, academicians, and politicians of Lebanon. As I traveled through the streets of Beirut, I observed the massive stacks of trash piled up across the streets. This motivated to me to understand and find potential solutions for Beirut’s garbage crisis.

 Beirut’s garbage crisis began in June 2015 as the garbage collection company Sukleen stopped collecting the city’s garbage due to the end of its contract with the government and the closure of two garbage landfills. The termination of garbage collection has left huge trails of trash across the city.  Although the Municipal Law of 1977 stipulated that garbage collection can be undertaken by the local administrations, the central government undertook the responsibility to award garbage collection rights to Sukleen company in 1994. Sukleen is owned by Hariri family, an elite political/sectarian family who is also in charge of the major political party called The Future Movement. Critics argued that Sukleen indirectly blackmailed the government by stopping the collection of garbage to win new lucrative garbage-removal contracts (Blanford, 2015). Amid the halt of garbage collection, the national Cabinet, which has been “divided by local and regional conflicts has been unable to agree on where and how to dump the capital’s rubbish (Fernandez, 2015)”.

Currently, providing public provisions such as garbage disposal management requires municipalities to work under the oversight of various government agencies, such as the Qa’immaqam, the Muhafiz, the Minister of Interior and Municipalities (Haas and Antoun, 2015). The Muhafiz and the Muhafazat are civil service officers responsible for conducting administrative duties directly overseen by the Ministery of Interior and Municipalities (Haase, Antoun 2015). The Muhafiz is appointed by the Cabinet, whereas the Qa’imaqam is either appointed by the Cabinet or the Muhafiz (Haase and Antoun, 2015). The sectarian/political elite, who receive the direct oversight of civil service officers through the Cabinet and the Ministry, award lucrative public provision deals to their own companies (Salloukh et al. 2015). In these webs of crony capitalist networks, elected mayors are largely precluded from formulating and administering their own public policy choices (Haase and Antoun, 2015). This situation severely limits the ability of local communities to hold the elected officials accountable for handling local affairs, as their voting blocks are ineffective in persuading the central government. For instance, a typical electorate of a municipality in Beirut that suffers from the garbage crisis has the electoral magnitude to influence the electability of only a few MPs to the parliament and hence has almost no accountability power over the cabinet. The lack of accountability may disincentivize the elected officials from prioritizing the interests of their constituencies.


I believe that an administrative decentralization mechanism would provide a solution for Beirut’s garbage crisis by increasing the accountability of the elected officials. Decentralizing administration involves transferring the responsibility for the planning, financing and management of garbage collection from the central government officers to local municipalities elected through popular vote. The Municipal Law of 1977 allows municipalities to determine the rates of municipal taxes, enabling municipalities to finance their own public provisions. Decentralization would provide leverage for the elected municipalities to undertake garbage disposal management without the interference of political/sectarian elites. Through participating in the elections the electorates of municipalities would have the full leverage to hold the elected officials accountable, which would incentivize the municipality to solve the garbage crisis in a given district.


Some potential problems exist with providing the authority to municipalities to handle garbage disposal. First, municipalities are too small to be able to self-sufficiently handle garbage disposal management. As of 2012, There were 964 municipalities in a population of 4.259 million people, which leads to roughly 4300 people per municipality (Solh, 2012). According to the Municipalities Act, “every city, town, and village in Lebanon is allowed a municipal authority provided that its population exceeds 300 persons and its annual revenues exceed LL 10,000 (Harb and Atallah, 2003)”. As a result, many of the municipalities possess extremely small populations and budgets (Solh, 2012). To solve this problem, the Lebanese government could improve the self-sufficiency of municipalities by encouraging them to form municipal unions (Haase and Antoun, 2015).  A municipal union is composed of several municipalities that have decided to formally work together to resolve common public policy problems (Municipal Act, 1977). Such unions could unite the resources of municipalities to undertake garbage disposal management.


The second potential problem is that given the lack of political alternatives to sectarian political parties, a decentralized mechanism may not be sufficient enough to prevent corruption. To counter this argument, it is important to note that the political parties that form alliances within sectarian lines at national elections often compete against each other during local elections. For instance, Hezbollah and Amal, the two major political parties of Shi’a sect, united their forces in some electoral districts during the national elections, yet competed against each other in almost all districts during the local elections. The competition between parties within sectarian lines would lead to competitive elections even in sectarian-homogenous municipalities, incentivizing the elected officials to prioritize the interests of their constituencies and lowering the rate of corruption.











Blanford, Nicholas (2015). “Beirut garbage ‘mafia’ torching Lebanese governance.” The Christian Science

Monitor 26 July 2015. Web. Accessed: 18 Jan 2016

Fernandez, Belen (2015). “Lebanon’s rubbish state: A metaphor comes to life.” Middle East Eye. 27 July 2015.

Web. Accessed: 18 Jan 2016

Haase, T. W. and R. Antoun (2015). Decentralization in Lebanon. Public Administration and Policy in the

Middle East, Springer: 189-213.

Harb, M., & Atallah, S. (2003). Decentralization and infrastructure service delivery in Lebanon. The

World Bank Group, 1 , 1–41.

Municipal Act. (1977). Decree-law no. 118. Beirut, Lebanon: Republic of Lebanon.

Salloukh, B., et al. (2015). The Politics of Sectarianism in Postwar Lebanon. London, Pluto Books.

Solh, L. R. (2012). The politics of location and its impact on municipal amalgamation: The case of Saida

and El Zahrani union of municipalities. Beirut: American University of Beirut.



Posted by yasunsalih on January 28th, 2016 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Decentralization: A Solution for Beirut’s Garbage Crisis?

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