The Lebanese government met on October 21st at the presidential palace in the Beirut suburb of Baabda, where the Cabinet approved 17 items of Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri’s bundle of reforms. Immediately after the meeting Al-Hariri delivered a speech to the Lebanese public during which he announced the 17 items which the Cabinet had approved. Among them were the reduction of ministers’ and several officials’ salaries by 50% and preparation of a draft law to reinstate the country’s stolen money.
During his speech Al-Hariri confirmed the reinforcement of the campaign to combat smuggling across Lebanon’s borders, thus affecting its economy. He also stated there will not be any new taxes as the government works on improving the electricity sector.
Yesterday, Al-Hariri submitted a group of reforms to alleviate the pressure of the economic crisis which has led to massive protests in Lebanon in the past few days. Al-Hariri gave the coalition government 72-hours grace to conduct the required economic reforms or else he will resign his post.
In order to accomplish economic reform, it is essential to deduct 50% of current and former presidents’, ministers’ and MPs’ salaries, in addition to reducing benefits provided to state institutions and officials. Also, Lebanon’s Central Bank, along with private banks, must contribute at least $3.3 billion to reach a “near zero deficit” for the 2020 budget.
Reforms also include a privatisation plan for the telecommunications sector as well as fully revamping the electricity sector, which is considered one of the main burdens on the country’s dilapidated financial resources. As Reuters reported, these reforms were approved on October 20th during Al-Hariri’s meeting with his coalition government.
Protesters, who started demonstrating five days ago, refused the announced reforms as they decided to continue protesting until they had toppled the government. However the government’s departure could lead to economic greater disaster and instability. Demonstrations initially erupted after the government decided to impose taxes on free messaging applications, such as Whatsapp.
Demonstrators also protested against the corruption of the political elite, which they believe has led to Lebanon’s current crisis. The Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) in its turn has called for the resignation of the country’s foreign affairs minister, Gebran Gerge Bassil, accusing him of reintroducing sectarian provocation to the country. The party issued a statement in which it asked President Michael Aoun to dismiss Gerge in order to continue as the country’s president.
ABC news reported that the army, along with the security forces, spread throughout the country, as protests took place in most Lebanese cities, and in Beirut, blocked streets leading to the presidential palace. Banks announced they would stay closed, and the main labour union announced a general strike, thus threatening further paralysis. The Lebanese minister of education announced the closing down of private, and state schools, along with universities, due to the ongoing protests.
According to The Guardian, the Lebanese Christian party resigned the coalition government after thousands of protesters swept the streets demonstrating against official corruption. The Head of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, said his group had resigned from the government, demonstrators celebrated the news and called on other blocs to leave the government.
Meanwhile, Al-Hariri accused his opponents of impeding his reform measures aimed at encouraging Western donors to release $11 billion that would assist in avoiding the country’s economic collapse.
According to Al-Watan website, the Lebanese Deputy Prime Minister, Ghassan Hasbani, said the current economic situation in Lebanon has reached a critical stage that requires the speedy implementation of radical reforms to avoid the risk of collapse. “Hezbollah’s decision on peace and war in the country and its involvement in the current regional escalation has had a negative impact on Lebanon’s economic situation as well as its relationship with Arab countries,” Hasbani said.
In her turn, the Lebanese Minister of State for Administrative Development, Mai Chidiac, believed that, "the main crisis is Hezbollah’s auxiliary economy and the smuggling it does. Hezbollah can smuggle products into the country through unofficial channels, even via the port, without paying fees, claiming that what it smuggles is under the framework of resistance, thus allowing all commercial materials without paying taxes and fees, as other merchants do.
Chidiac pointed out, her ministry is preparing a strategy to fight corruption, which includes stopping smuggling through Lebanon’s 130 crossing points.