Dear Prime Minister Hariri,
As you work to establish a new government, balancing complex issues and conflicting demands, we trust that the interests of those who call Lebanon home will be top priority.
We are at a critical juncture. Our country suffers from poisoned water, inadequate and unhealthy energy supply, toxic air, infected food supplies, an underperforming education system, a broken economy, racism and a strained social fabric, declining appreciation for our rich culture, and the steady degradation of the urban and rural environments where we live, work, celebrate, and connect with each other.
At the heart of these issues lay the critical failure of public service, and the lack of accountability of our government officials. Yet I remain optimistic, because I know that we have, in Lebanon, the human capabilities and resources to successfully address all these issues. In order to unlock this potential, we respectfully request that your government:
1: Nominate for public leadership only candidates with both expertise and a stake (“skin in the game”) in the field in question
2: Institute a mandatory, regular and transparent government-wide reporting system, while creating more opportunities for citizens to contribute to public sector challenges.
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1: “SKIN IN THE GAME”
As regards the first issue, we have created a system that specifically disincentivizes our public officials from performing their best in addressing critical national issues. Those managing and working in our public education receive subsidies to send their children to private schools, thus reducing their incentives to deliver strong public education. Analogous situations exist throughout the government, whereby officials are largely dissociated from the impact of their own work. The situation should be reversed. The Minister of Education, Director Generals, and all senior education officials should send their children only to public schools and universities in Lebanon within 5 years. Within 10 years, that should apply to everyone who works in the Ministry of Education.
The same applies to other ministries. Within 5 years, the Minister of Energy and Water and senior ministry officials should only drink and use municipal water for all in-house purposes, and the Ministry itself should only use municipal water for all their in-building purposes (including drinking). At the same time, the Minister, senior ministry staff, and those running Electricité du Liban and other municipal power agencies, should only use municipal power at their homes and offices, the same as that provided to all people in their jurisdictions. The Minister of Public Health should only use public health insurance and public hospitals. Those in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport should only use public transportation (at the next stage, those still employed by the Lebanese rail company should be forced to use the railways as their primary transportation method). Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment officials should only eat domestic produce and food products.
Within a year or two after that, all cabinet and senior government officials should be required to do the same. Shared responsibilities and shared incentives will encourage all senior government officials to support the efforts of the others to make sure there is rapid progress in core areas, and to ensure that they and their families have adequate water, electricity, health care, education, transportation, and other core public services, and to make those available to all people in Lebanon so they themselves can benefit from the same.
Within 5 years, ministers and senior officials should only use the services of their ministries at home and work.
How many ministries could this apply to? Let’s be creative in implementation, and ask those who are interested in a post — the ministers, director generals, and staff — to make their own commitments, share them publicly, and let’s use that as part of the selection process to determine whether they are fit for a public post, or not.
The idea of people having “skin in the game” is common in many circles, including business, innovation, investment, health and medicine, and otherwise. It likewise should apply to public governance.
2: INCREASED ACCOUNTABILITY, WITH INCREASED COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY
The second point is equally important. Right now, there is limited awareness around what the ministries, agencies, and city councils are doing and their core priorities, and at the same time, we are not tapping into our most incredible resource: our people, our citizens.
As is common in the private sector when a company wants to ensure productivity and growth, let’s set up a system of quarterly reporting, initially by all senior officials, and then soon after for all public employees. This is not meant to “micro-manage” people, but rather to help us all align our efforts, and to figure out how we as citizens can provide support and assistance to our critical public institutions. The effectiveness of any organization is the sum of the effectiveness of the individuals in that organization, and so we should explore ways to help every public employee, at every level, be more effective. This means simultaneously having higher expectations for them, and greater accountability, while also having greater appreciation for them.
If we want to take this further, we should work towards setting up a system similar to the one popularized by Google, called OKRs – Objectives and Key Results, for all public sector employees.
This could also be used as an opportunity to help the public sector better leverage expertise and support from the citizens and the private sector. I know some wonderful, talented, dedicated people working in the Lebanese government, trying to do the job of 2 or 3 people. If we could develop volunteer citizen expert/advisory committees and working groups to provide support to those dedicated government employees, and run them effectively, we could collectively do a tremendous amount to improve conditions in our country.
While we need to expect more from our public service employees, at all seniority levels, it’s also critical to explore how we as citizens can be of greater service to those people.
Dear Mister Prime Minister, we appreciate that you are working through some challenging issues in the process of forming the new government. However, please don’t lose sight on the urgent challenges that must be addressed, critically, immediately, for our country. The above ideas should of course be optional, and we don’t want to impose them on people who don’t want to commit to them and implement them enthusiastically. But if they don’t agree to the above, then perhaps they should not be selected to work for the citizens of Lebanon, and they should find their work elsewhere.
A Lebanese Citizen