EU Looks for Track Record in Lebanon Contractors

As head of the European Commission's cooperation initiatives in Lebanon, Jussi Narvi works closely with the Lebanese government. Photo by: Sam Mednick

The European Union is now midway through its development cooperation program with Lebanon. Back in 2007, the European Commission adopted a country strategy that will run through 2013 and entails funding a series of initiatives to help the Middle Eastern nation recover from its 2006 conflict with Israel.

In the midst of this reconstruction process is Jussi Narvi, who leads the European Commission's Cooperation Section in Lebanon. His job focuses on the country's socio-economic development and institution building.

Devex sat down with Narvi in Beirut in October, a month before the formation of the unity government in Lebanon. Narvi described various projects the commission is now implementing in Lebanon and provided advice on how consultants can get involved in these activities.

EU programs in Lebanon

How did the war in 2006 change the project agenda in Lebanon?

The clearest impact was that we had for 2006 foreseen a private sector development project and that was simply converted into a reconstructive and economic recovery project.

It was intended to continue the work we were doing on developing the quality infrastructure, on introducing the notion of quality to the work of Lebanese enterprises to support their efforts in developing their activities, exports, and so forth. All that had to be postponed. We are about to start it now, because the money was needed to repair the physical damage and the economic damage caused by the 2006 crisis.

What projects are currently being implemented in Lebanon right now?

In terms of ongoing projects, we are working with the security forces to improve criminal investigations and the training capacities. We work on a fairly wide portfolio of different reform projects that are improving the way the government does things. We have an education project about to take off, and we have a fairly large portfolio of projects that stem from the 2006 crisis in construction and restarting economic activities, which have been going on for a while now.

What projects are currently being implemented from the 80 million-euro grant from MEDA II [the financing instrument governing cooperation with countries in southern Mediterranean, including Lebanon]?

The agricultural development project, where we helped some of the corporate companies improve their work. We gave them grants so they could develop their irrigation systems and their storage systems for their produce. We also helped them in developing their marketing systems. One of my favorite things under that project was an alert system for plant diseases and insects, the aim being that the Lebanese farmers could cut down on their use of pesticides. They use far too much pesticide. It's a problem because it's costly, and it's a problem because the residues are so high that much of the produce can't be exported, which means that it has to be eaten here, which isn't too nice either.

Then, we had a quality infrastructure project, which was the project that was supposed to be taken over by the 2006, $18 million private sector development project that never happened because it had to be converted for reconstruction. That is now being taken care of by a $14 million project, which is about to start.

Another project was developing the capabilities of Lebanese laboratories to test products to ensure their quality, so they can be safely put to consumption, including exports. Of course, developing Lebanese export capacity is one of the main concerns, developing the real economy in Lebanon. The other tool for that was small and medium-sized enterprise projects, which developed three business development centers, four startups, and funded a loan guarantee scheme to improve the small and medium-sized enterprises in finance.

Then, there are the water projects. The Lebanese water authorities have a problem in invoicing their production and that, of course, makes it very difficult for them to be sustainable and continue to improve, and even do the maintenance of their water distribution systems and evacuation. So, we had provided them with some tools, and now the idea is to actually help them put them into practice.

Are there any projects in place to help deal with the power situation?

Regrettably, no. We were very much on standby to help the National Energy Regulatory Authority to start functioning, so that the Lebanese could open the energy market to other companies. Electricite du Liban is not capable of providing everything that is needed and they have, for the time being, been in a monopoly position. There was a government plan to break that monopoly to open the market to other providers. But, of course, in utilities, you need a regulator. Otherwise, you just create natural monopolies. So, we're on standby to help create that regulator, but the government decision is still pending.

Collaboration and recruitment

What would you say to people looking to partner with the European Commission and the Lebanese delegation?

Well, it depends on what kind of partnership one is looking for. To work for the European Commission, there are two ways: either you pass an open competition to become a civil servant, or you pass a test that will give you access to a database for possible contractual agents like most of our task managers here are. They have a fixed-term contract that may become a nonfixed contract in the long run. They are the experts. I, as a civil servant and a head of section, am more of a generalist, whereas they have their sectorial, specific knowledge, and they are on the first line of managing our projects. For an individual who wants to work for the European Commission, those are the main opportunities. As a company, we publish our calls for tender on the European Union Web site, and following the calls for tender is the way to do it. For an NGO, basically the same thing: The calls for proposals are published on our Web site here locally and on the office Web site in Brussels.

What specific qualities do you look for in a company or NGO looking to partner with the delegation?

It depends on the type of call for proposal or tender. We never work with startups. They have to have a certain economic solidity and certain track record. We are looking for expertise. A startup may consist of people who have the expertise, but it's very difficult to demonstrate the track record, and we have to have a demonstrated track record so that we can make our selections.

What would you say to companies in the Middle East that want to become short-term consultants?

Again, two possibilities, although one is rather periodic. For short-term consultancy, up to 200,000 euros in budget and one year of work over two years of duration, we work through framework contracts. This means that we had initially a big corporate tender. We had companies who submitted their offers that were selected to be short-listed, and when we need services, we go to those short-listed companies. That is because restricted call for tender is a very long procedure. It's a heavy one to manage basically because it's long, and sometimes we need the assistance fairly fast. For those framework contracts, we give the contractors two weeks to reply, and normally we sign a contract within a month from the request for services.

Is the Lebanese delegation currently hiring?

At this time, there are no vacancies, but that's likely to change at some point. Some of our contract agents have participated in the competitions to become officials, and they are very good. So, I expect some of them to actually make it, so there will be openings like that. There will also be a system of rotation of contract agents between delegations. So, those who have been here for a long time who think they've perhaps not seen it all but have seen enough and want to see something else might be moving out. But there are no such situations clearly in view, but it's something to be expected. In a year or two, I'm sure the team will look quite different.

The needs do change. We're trying to reduce the spread of our activities simply because it becomes almost unmanageable. When we focus our work more, we can afford to have more specialists. Now, many of the task managers are more experts in managing projects, rather than experts in the given subject that they are working on. If we move towards budget support, then the policy dialogue and the question of substance gain importance, and we might see the cause of a rotation go for more specific profiles.

Read the first part of our interview with Jussi Narvi, where he explains the importance of the newly-formed government in Lebanon's reconstruction progress and the effects of aid policy changes on the work of the Lebanese delegation.

About the author

  • Sam Mednick

    Sam Mednick is a Devex Contributing Reporter based in Burkina Faso. Over the past 15 years she has reported on conflict, post-conflict, and development stories from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe. She recently spent almost three years reporting on the conflict in South Sudan as the Associated Press correspondent. Her work has also appeared in The New Humanitarian, VICE, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and Al Jazeera, among others.