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How is aid reenergizing municipal clientelist channels?

Which Municipalities Abused Aid Forms?

Wassim Maktabi,
Sami Zoughaib,
Sami Atallah

The financial crisis and the repercussions of the pandemic in Lebanon pushed more than 70% of the population into poverty. Despite this, the country’s only formal poverty targeting scheme is limited to the Ministry of Social Affairs’ (MoSA) National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP). This has caused the number of MoSA aid applications registered on IMPACT between April and May 2020 to triple, compared to the number of NPTP applicants between the years of 2012 and 2015, combined.

In this brief, we leveraged data from IMPACT, Lebanon’s first e-government platform that provides access to governance issues at the central and local levels, to study the behavior of municipalities on the registrations of vulnerable households for cash assistance. Our findings show that municipalities led by traditional parties submitted more MoSA aid applications than family-run or independent municipalities, although to different extents. This could suggest that municipalities captured by some political parties likely have over-reported vulnerabilities for clientelist motives.

Clientelist trends in MoSA aid applications

Between April 2020 and April 2021, municipalities submitted 468,662 MoSA applications, with nearly all (99%) sent out in April and May 2020 before the suspension of the aid registration campaign that month.1 While this alarming number is a result of the compounding financial and health crises, our analysis of the data on IMPACT indicates an overuse of the aid form by municipalities, particularly those controlled by traditional political parties. This suggests that ruling parties have not only mobilized informal social assistance networks, but have also submitted aid forms for clientelist motives.

our analysis [...] indicates an overuse of the aid form by municipalities, particularly those controlled by traditional political parties


Figure 1
Figure 1
When we look closely at the activities of 1,002 municipalities on IMPACT, we find that 158 had at least 90% of their submissions focused on filling-out MoSA aid applications. Even though 41% of municipalities are controlled by traditional parties, they accounted for 59% of MoSA aid submissions (figure 1).

The effect of municipalities' political allegiance on MoSA aid applications

Traditional political parties controlling municipalities submit, on average, significantly more aid forms relative to their populations than family-run or independent municipalities. This result holds true when taking into account the registered population, level of development, and geographic characteristics.2 When we look at individual political parties, two stand out: Hezbollah and Amal. Indeed, their affiliated municipalities submit significantly more MoSA aid applications per capita than municipalities run by families and independent candidates.3 The effect of other parties—the Future Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, and the Lebanese Forces—on MoSA aid applications per capita falls short on being significant. A possible explanation is that Hezbollah and Amal could be parties that are more organized than others and thus have larger and more direct networks with constituents.

As the launch of Lebanon's two largest social safety net programs, the Emergency Social Safety Net and the Broad Coverage Cash-Transfer (known as Daem), edges closer, so do the parliamentary elections where traditional parties look to mobilize their capital on. With the findings of this brief showing that municipalities controlled by political parties are more likely to over-report vulnerabilities than independent or family-run ones, it becomes of paramount importance to insulate aid programs from the capture of parties. Without this, any social protection program will be used to re-energize the patron-client relationship political elites have long built with constituencies.

1- The MoSA aid form was suspended on May 11, 2020. The number of applications also includes applications submitted by unidentified municipalities (4,043).

2- Results are significant with a 90% confidence level.

3- Results are significant with a 95% confidence level.

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