Le­banon needs con­crete ac­tion, not just words

▶ The gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed re­forms have done lit­tle to quell pub­lic anger across the coun­try

The National - News - - OPINION -

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.

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