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Sami Atallah, LCPS executive director

April 2018
Lebanese MPs: Little Time to Legislate and Hold Government Accountable

As part of LCPS’s work on monitoring the Lebanese Parliament, we are publishing a series of articles on the performance of the country’s national legislative body. These articles will focus on issues ranging from coherence among aligned parties and MPs, to the relationship lawmakers have with constituents.
This article examines the ability of MPs to effectively participate in the decision-making process by engaging in legislative and oversight sessions as well as their willingness to exert effort to draft laws that meet citizens’ concerns and needs.

For parliamentarians to legislate and oversee the performance of the government, they should at least take part in parliamentary sessions and parliamentary committees in which draft laws are debated, studied, and reviewed. Looking closely at their performance over the last nine years, little effort has been exerted by MPs. Although, there has been a high attendance rate in legislative sessions, only a fraction of MPs actually participated in discussions. Furthermore, many MPs are less keen to hold the government accountable as their attendance rate in oversight sessions is low. Interestingly, party leaders do not often attend or participate in parliamentary sessions. Committees meet infrequently, a rate which should be considered low given the challenges that Lebanese face.
As part of a larger project that the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) launched on the performance of the parliament, we examined the attendance and participation rate of 128 MPs over twenty-four legislative and oversight sessions from June 2009 to April 2017. Keeping in mind that performance should not be confined to attendance and participation, the number and content of draft laws proposed by MPs is far more important. However, since only draft laws made public are those which are subject to deliberation, such data is misleading and hence was excluded from the performance measurement. In any case, looking closely at these deliberations, the data offers interesting findings.
Consider that although the collective attendance rate for all MPs stands at 84%, their participation rate in the discussion is about 37%. In other words, only one-third of MPs who are present in sessions contribute to the discussion. Given that MPs are only allowed to skip two sessions without justification, eighty-five MPs violated this rule—that is they did not provide any excuse—without any recourse. More precisely, fifty-six MPs skipped up to three sessions, beyond the two granted by the bylaws, without excuse. In fact, fourteen MPs did not attend ten or more sessions out of the twenty-four sessions and one MP skipped nineteen sessions altogether.  
When zooming in on oversight sessions, it is interesting to note that the attendance rate is lower in comparison to legislative sessions and the parliament did not hold the nine required oversight sessions; opting instead to hold only five. According to the bylaws, for every three legislative sessions, the parliament must hold one oversight session. Even when sessions were held, they were largely “for show”, that is MPs ask the government and ministers few questions and the government ignores their inquiries. Despite claims of corruption, MPs threats are hollow as no follow-up action is taken.
Using this data, we created a performance index which averages attendance and participation rates. The average score of the 128 MPs was 6 out of 10. Two interesting results emerge. First, looking at the performance of each bloc, the Loyalty for the Resistance bloc—led by Hezbollah—scores highest with 6.6 while the Democratic Gathering led by the Progressive Socialist Party scores the lowest with 4.8. The two parties that have the lowest variation within their bloc—meaning the difference between the highest and lowest scorer is smallest—are the Kataeb and the Loyalty for the Resistance bloc. Second, while the highest scorers are from different blocs, five of the fifteen lowest scorers are party heads: Talal Arslan, Saad Hariri, Suleiman Frangieh, Michel Aoun, and Walid Jumblatt. Even when they do attend, their participation rate, on average, hovers around 15%. This suggests that debate over policy issues does not take place in the parliament and instead is the result of wheeling and dealing elsewhere.
In fact, MPs do not see their main role as legislating or overseeing the executive. When we interviewed sixty-five MPs to better understand their policy positions, we asked them how they spend their time in office. In fact, almost 70% of them have stated that they spend their time interacting with voters, talking to the media, and interacting with other parties, while only 30% of their time is dedicated to legislating and holding government accountable.
The poor record of MPs is not confined to participation in the general sessions as it is also reflected in the number of parliamentary committee meetings held during this period. Using publicly available data collected from 2010 to 2014 in the sixteen parliamentary committees where draft laws are studied and debated, it was determined that they met, on average, 323 times per year. However, when one looks closely at the numbers, this totals about one and a half meetings per month per committee. Apart from the administration and justice committee, the frequency with which committees meet is dismal. To put this in context, the environment committee only managed to meet six times per year despite the garbage crisis. As for the ICT committee, its members did not find it necessary to meet more than three times per year.

Once again, MPs do not seem up to the task of assuming their legislative and oversight roles. Attendance and participation are necessary but not sufficient to produce relevant laws and hold government accountable, meaning many MPs are falling short of carrying out their basic duties. It is likely that action on the part of MPs’ respective constituents could spur Lebanon’s legislators to pay more attention to issues that matter to citizens and act as a check on the government by conducting oversight.

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