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What is the effect of political affiliations on municipal transparency?

Mounir Mahmalat,
Wassim Maktabi,
Sami Atallah,
Sami Zoughaib

Lebanon’s ruling political parties play a major role in governing the provision of public services at both the central and local levels. Indeed, the political affiliations of municipalities and Unions of Municipalities (UoMs) has, conventionally, become a major determining factor for the way local governments are run. We find in this brief, however, that the impact of political affiliations largely stops at one important part of municipal governance: The degree to which municipalities and UoMs are willing to provide information to the public.

To test this, we first select 1,002 municipalities, of which 414 are headed by the main political parties and 588 are not, as well as the country’s 60 UoMs, of which 36 are led by presidents affiliated with or close to a political party. Second, we leverage the Institutional Transparency Index (ITI), that captures the extent to which municipalities comply with the regulations of the Central Inspection to share information with the public.1 The ITI leverages data from the IMPACT platform, an open-data tool where the Central Inspection requests municipalities to publish governance issues, to provide a measure of transparency by capturing the comprehensiveness, frequency, and distribution of attention across topics.

Our analysis aimed to identify the effects of the political affiliations of municipalities and UoMs on municipal transparency. We deploy statistical analyses to take into account other influencing factors, such as the level of development, size, and wealth of a municipality, which could enhance or hamper the ability of municipalities to deploy staff, collect information, or to respond to citizens’ demands. We run four analyses in total, each for the effect of political affiliations of municipalities and UoMs on transparency.

Transparency, for the most part, is not a political matter as municipalities led by parties are as transparent as independent or family-led municipalities

Our results are encouraging: We find that transparency, for the most part, is not a political matter as municipalities led by parties are as transparent as independent or family-led municipalities. Dissecting by party shows that, with the exception of Hezbollah-run municipalities, there is no party significantly less transparent than independent or family-run municipalities. Marada-run municipalities are even significantly more transparent than family-run municipalities. Network effects due to the proximity of these municipalities to each other, coupled with their common political allegiance, could explain the lower variation in their transparency scores.2

We obtain similar results for the political affiliations of UoMs. With the exception of UoMs headed by Amal, neither the affiliation of the president, nor the heterogeneity of political affiliations within the UoM appear to impact the level of transparency of a union.

Our results show that transparency can be a promising vehicle for improving local governance. The influence of political parties via special interests for or against transparency seems to play a minor role. Network effects appear to have a larger influence on the way municipalities provide information as neighboring municipalities exchange with each other on the usage of the tool.3 Encouraging and building on a culture of transparency within public administrations therefore can, and should, be a first step to improve governance and restore people's trust in the state.

1- Mahmalat, M., W. Maktabi, S. Zoughaib, and S. Atallah. 2021. " How Transparent Are Lebanon’s Municipalities? Introducing the Institutional Transparency Index." The Policy Initiative.

2- Mahmalat, M., S. Zoughaib, W. Maktabi, and S. Atallah. 2021. “What Determines the Transparency of Municipalities? The Effects of Networks and Neighbors.” The Policy Initiative.

3- Mahmalat, M., S. Zoughaib, W. Maktabi, and S. Atallah. 2021. “Networks and the Transparency of Local Governments: The Effects of Municipal Unions.” The Policy Initiative.

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