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This guest blog was written for the Hub on the occasion of International Day for Living Together in Peace (16 May)
Carole Alsharabati, Research Director, Siren Associates
Nour Hachem, Project Officer, Siren Associates
Since 2019, Lebanon has fallen into an unprecedented financial crisis that doubled up with the COVID crisis and the Beirut Port Blast to push the Lebanese population into very difficult times.
According to a Human Rights Watch survey done in 2022, the crisis brought the share of households living on extremely low incomes to its highest with 40 percent of households earning at most $100 per month and 90 percent of households earning less than $377 per month.
But Lebanon is a country where corruption is extremely high, and where it is very difficult to deploy cash transfer programs without clientelist intrusion, especially on the eve of elections where vote buying is a huge risk.
It is very difficult to deploy cash transfer programs without clientelist intrusion
As a result, the Lebanon Emergency Crisis and COCID-19 Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN) was launched in December of 2021 as an add-on to the National Poverty Targeting Program to further extend social assistance programming in the country. The ESSN program was developed on a digital platform, IMPACT (the Inter-Ministerial Platform for Assessment Coordination and Tracking), which had proven its success during the COVID crisis in the dissemination of the vaccines donated by the World Bank.
DAEM, the Intake and Registration Platform (IRP) developed as a portal on IMPACT, was created under the leadership of the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) and the Presidency of Council of Ministers (PCM), with the oversight and governance insured by the Central Inspection of Lebanon. DAEM integrates all steps of the ESSN program, from registration to data validation, PMT scoring, payment, allowing monitoring and auditing of the program; it is an end-to-end digital platform catering for citizens and stakeholders’ needs.
To register in the ESSN program, citizens create an account on the DAEM platform and fill in the online registration form. The first evaluation stage is automated through a set of exclusion filters included in the ESSN law voted by the parliament. Next, social workers or surveyors are assigned to complete household visits and verify the registration data, as well as collect additional consumption indicators. Once the visit is completed, and the updates have been approved, a Proxy Mean Test index is computed to assess the eligibility of the households and enroll them for payment.
Despite the fact that the registration phase only lasted two months (December 2021 – January 2022), more than 580,000 households registered on the DAEM platform. Of those, approximately 250,000 passed the exclusion rules and were visited by surveyors. Of them, 93,249 households passed the Proxy Mean Test threshold and were enrolled for cash transfers on DAEM. They have been receiving monthly payments for over a year now. Those payments vary between 70$ and 125$ depending on the size of the household.
DAEM integrated and digitized the entire process, moving away from manual and traditional methods, and helping to overcome arbitrary manual interference and clientelism in a very critical phase of Lebanese contemporary history. DAEM has brought transparency, traceability, and allowed effective audit and oversight by the Central Inspection of Lebanon by giving inspectors access to information at the inception of the platform and during the entire ESSN program deployment. They have produced several reports and shared them with relevant stakeholders, media and the wider public.
DAEM has brought transparency, traceability, and allowed effective audit and oversight by the Central Inspection of Lebanon
All in all, DAEM is definitely a success, but it has taught us important lessons for the future. First, and as the registration procedure was totally automated and digitized, targeting remote areas and most vulnerable households turned out to be a challenge in a country where digital literacy is wide but still has its limits. This is why more than 80 NGOs and CSOs were trained and onboarded to help register applicants and follow up on their registration. In addition, a call center was created for those who needed to reach out for help and has been taking thousands of calls a day, more than 5,000 on peak days. Digital processes were therefore reinforced with other complementary approaches in order to better target the poor and vulnerable families and better support them in the process.
The inter-institutional coordination on the project, connecting MoSA, PCM, CI, the World Food Program, NGOs, CSOs, and the implementing teams has been instrumental in the success of the project, which was a first in Lebanon. It is notable that, without the technology, this coordination would not have been as effective. In addition, the technology has allowed us to link with oversight agencies, with experts and inspectors not just monitoring the operation, but also verifying new features to make sure they ensure transparency, accountability, privacy, and security on the system.
An open data dashboard has provided insights to media and think tanks, while reports were published on the Central Inspection website providing access to information and further transparency on the project. For once, the State of Lebanon has opened up towards its society and shared information in real time.
DAEM has been a success against all odds and corruption trends in Lebanon. Preserving this experience on IMPACT is precious for the upcoming times. More similar experiences should also be built and reformists should know that change can come about and bring effective results within a very short period of time. They just need to connect the proper stakeholders, think in terms of “governance by design” and leverage the technical capabilities within the country. And above all, they need to believe in change and not surrender to pressure of any kind. In short, when there is a will, there is a way!