Former minister calls Hariri’s promises ‘too little, too late’ and supports early elections to end national unrest
Lebanon’s Labour Minister Camille Abousleiman, who resigned at the weekend, told
The National that Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s reform promises were “too little, too late” as Lebanon entered its sixth day of anti-government protests.
Mr Abousleiman submitted his resignation on Sunday evening, with three other ministers of the Christian-majority Lebanese Forces party, after an announcement by party leader Samir Geagea.
On Monday, after Mr Hariri announced Cabinet-backed reforms to appease protesters, Mr Abousleiman described them as unrealistic and populist.
Mr Hariri said the 2020 budget would have a 0.6 per cent deficit, paid for in part by a tax on bank profits. Lebanon is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world.
His 18-point proposal includes halving salaries for current and former officials, privatising telecoms and providing 24-hour electricity.
“If protesters want early parliamentary elections, I will support it,” Mr Hariri said.
Asked how he believed the government would achieve a 0.6 per cent deficit, Mr Abousleiman said it would “basically raid the people’s money in the banks or take money from the central bank. That is money that belongs to the people in both cases – it’s not really that helpful”.
Like most protesters, the Lebanese Forces have called for the government to resign and hand over power to technocrats who
would organise early elections. Mr Abousleiman also called for independent judges to be appointed to lead a national commission to combat corruption.
Lebanon is suffering from an economic and financial crisis. A recent attempt to increase taxes triggered protests that spread throughout the country.
People have voiced many grievances, from corruption to the cost of education and health care. On Monday evening, demonstrators chanted “all of them means all of them, Geagea and all of them” in the streets of Beirut, referring to their demand for the government to resign.
“The time is not to discuss substance, but who has the trust of the people to implement change and really combat corruption. These are not these people,” Mr Abousleiman said of the country’s current leadership. “We need a government consisting of competent, professional, independent people who understand economic and fiscal agendas much better than the current group,” he said.
Mr Abousleiman spent most of his working life abroad as a finance lawyer and returned to Lebanon this year for his first stint in politics.
He said the Lebanese Forces ministers resigned because they felt that the government was pursuing flawed policies.
“We voted against the 2019 and 2020 budget, both in parliament and in the government,” he said. “There were reasons to stay and reasons to leave, but we felt that it was much more important to leave because they were not going to pass what we think are necessary reforms to save the [country from] the financial, fiscal, economic and social crisis that we are now living under.”
Mr Abousleiman said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the street protests across the country. “People should be heard,” he said.
“What is happening is completely unprecedented.”
Camille Abousleiman resigned as Lebanon’s labour minister