SKL International partners with Lebanese Unions of Municipalities!

SKL/ SKL International is implementing a Sida-funded project – Resilience in Local Governance: Reslog – in Turkey and Lebanon aiming at resilient and sustainable local governance systems in light of the Syria refugee crisis.

In Akkar governorate in northern Lebanon, SALAR is working in partnership with several Unions of Municipalities with a whole systems approach in the areas of institutional development, data collection, planning and delivery of basic services, community interaction, and transparency and accountability of local governments.

Bringing change to Dreib union

After 28 years abroad Abboud Merheb returned to Lebanon to become the head of Dreib El Awsat union of municipalities. Discovering that there wasn’t a single paper in office left behind by his predecessor, Abboud Merheb soon turned frustrated over what he perceives as a lazy mentality in a lot of the municipalities.

– I am running Dreib El Awsat as a company. That’s how I see it, it’s a company that needs to be managed. It’s not just to sit behind a chair and receive people. No, this is work, work must be done.

Abboud Merheb has a big smile on his face. He glows with confidence and invincibility. However, he never dreamed of becoming a politician. After having lived in Canada for over 20 years, he moved to Saudi Arabia and was quite satisfied working with hotel management and catering. He had large responsibilities, being in charge of operations for some 20 000-50 000 guests daily.
– So when they asked me to run in the elections here I first thought no, it’s a small town, this is not for me.

He laughs out loud and shakes his head, seemingly bemused. Somehow, he was persuaded into accepting the nomination, and after having won the election he accepted his fate and moved back to the country he had left 28 years earlier.

The shift of career was hard. Having lived all his adult life abroad, he was now frustrated to see the way of thinking in the municipalities.
– A lot of politicians here are used to just sitting all day, receiving people, drinking coffee, taking selfies… They think ’I’m the mayor and that’s it’.

Running the union like a business, one of Abboud Merhebs first interests was to study the expenses. He soon discovered that 80 percent of union’s budget goes to contracts with a waste management company, and therefore started looking at possibilities for the union to deal with waste management on its own. In that way, they would be able to recycle some of the garbage, while it also would create jobs within the union, Abboud Merheb reasons. This resulted in a UNHCR-funded waste management project, starting early 2019. A recent calculation shows cost saving of some 60 percent compared to before.
– We are bringing the money back to the people.

Another big challenge in Dreib El Awsat union is the lack of demographic data. Not knowing how many children in the area that do not attend school, makes it difficult to know how many schools that are needed. Numbers are essential for identifying the needs of the community, says Abboud Merheb.
– We need to know our weaknesses. Numbers will tell us what to do. If there are no numbers, then I don’t know which problems I have to solve.

And this is where SKL comes in. One of the areas that the Reslog team anticipates to support Dreib El Awsat union of municipalities with is data collection and management.
– Some people say we do not have money to send children to school, but I don’t agree. We can work on this issue. Once we know the needs, we could try to find someone to sponsor them to go to school. Having proper data will make a very big difference.

Contrary to many other Lebanese politicians, Abboud Merheb is not running for a second term. Instead he encourages new potential leaders around him to take over and continue working for their citizens.
– This seat was only lent to me. I will do all I can for six years, then I want someone else to take over. And trust me, when I leave this office I will leave tons of dossiers for my successor…

(Text an photo: Annie Wernersson)