Lebanon needs concrete action, not just words
▶ The government’s proposed reforms have done little to quell public anger across the country
As the clock wound down on the Lebanese government’s 72-hour deadline to come up with solutions for the country’s crippling crises, Prime Minister Saad Hariri unveiled a package of measures aimed at appeasing protesters across the country. His 18-point plan, hastened through an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday, promises to tackle soaring unemployment, a sluggish economy and endemic corruption. But the proposed reforms have done little to quell anger on the streets. What began as protests against a tax on WhatsApp last Thursday has swelled into something much more significant, speaking to years of dissatisfaction with the political elite.
What Lebanese citizens need is tangible action to follow words. Mr Hariri’s proposals included a pledge to provide round-the-clock electricity by next year – a feat officials have failed to accomplish since the end of the civil war in 1990. The Cabinet also approved a budget for 2020 that aimed to reduce the deficit to 0.6 per cent – revised from an earlier target of 6.59 per cent, which economists had decried as unrealistic. Mr Hariri also promised to tackle corruption head-on yet his proposal to halve the salaries of current and former ministers and parliamentarians could increase the risk of corruption as government officials attempt to make up for the shortfall in their salaries. Meanwhile, Lebanese citizens have been deprived of basic services such as reliable access to water, power and adequate health care for more than 30 years. They have little faith that a solution concocted in 72 hours will resolve decades of despair. Many officials pledging to effect change have been in power for years – sometimes, decades – and many have become complacent in their posts. Since protests first erupted, leaders across the political spectrum, from Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah to Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces, have tried to claim other parties in the unity government prevented them from resolving the country’s many issues. But evasion of responsibility holds little water with Lebanese citizens after years of decay.
There can, of course, be no quick fixes for the country’s woes and while it is heartening that the government has responded swiftly, it is vital that citizens continue to be heard without being threatened or harassed. There are reports of armed members of Amal and Hezbollah targeting protesters speaking up against them in the Shiite-majority south and intimidating them in demonstrations in Beirut. Lebanese citizens have a right to express their concerns without fear for their own safety.
If the Lebanese government wants to show it is deal with its people’s concerns seriously, it must start taking concrete steps instead of making overreaching, unrealistic promises. Even if more resignations follow, there is no guarantee that newly appointed officials will be any more efficient at tackling Lebanon’s problems. The government must work together with protest leaders and members of society to come up with actionable solutions that will assure real change and end to the economic crisis.