Lebanon: Another Lost Opportunity for Change

The message behind publishing The Impossible Vindication “elect us and you will see.” (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)
Published Tuesday, February 12, 2013
The publication of the Free Patriotic Movement’s (FPM) book The Impossible Vindication, which details the mismanagement of government finances at the hands of former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora, provides a welcome opportunity for a national discussion on social and economic reform.

It is true, as the book shows, that the Future Movement’s Siniora and his political team violated the law and spent billions of dollars that cannot be accounted for. It is also true that he regularly presented budget proposals with no respect for deadlines, slipping in some expenditures outside the budget.

But the current Najib Mikati government has not done any better. His cabinet has not even bothered to send a budget proposal for two consecutive years and has paid Lebanon’s share of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) from unknown public funds.

More was expected of the Mikati government, particularly given the prevalence of advocates of the “Resistance” (Hezbollah) and “change and reform” (FPM), who were not part of any government since the end of the civil war in 1990 and could not be implicated in the country’s long history of official corruption.

After all, was it not these “resisters” and “reformers” who passed an unjust law, dividing up worker’s wages based on the idea that “it has always been done this way.”

Confronting Corruption

Corruption in Lebanon is systemic and cannot be limited to a group of dishonest politicians – since the 1990 settlement that ended the civil war, repeated attempts to uproot it have ended in failure.
The first opportunity to deal with corruption came in 1998 with the “Financial Reform Program,” which faced government resistance and was never implemented.

With the departure of the Syrian army, another “Economic and Social Program for Lebanon” was put forward, presenting us with an opportunity to rebuild the state on a more sound basis, coinciding with the entry of the FPM into government.

This government did make some breakthroughs, such as agreeing on budget guidelines and increasing oversight, as well as reclaiming funds belonging to the municipalities and the social insurance agency.
These positive steps forward were unfortunately marred by setbacks, such as increasing privatization and the regressive value-added tax (VAT), in addition to renewing questionable contracts without renegotiating their terms.

Nevertheless, this period was marked by the intensification of research and the drafting of laws and programs that would contribute to the reform process. But when the Mikati government was formed – which I joined as minister of labor on behalf of the FPM – the failures and retreats mounted, forcing me to tender my resignation.

Seizing the Opportunity

The declared purpose of publishing The Impossible Vindication is to put March 14’s record before the electorate ahead of the June 2013 parliamentary elections. The message is “elect us and you will see.” We will see what? That the FPM will be represented by ten Christian ministers? And what will they do that is different from what they have been doing so far?

The commitment of any political party in changing the system means that it must confront it directly. And there is no hope of it achieving any change unless it is prepared to mobilize popular forces behind its reform plan. FPM leader General Michel Aoun has a long history of taking a strong stand in making fateful decisions – is this also true of his party?

Achieving real reform is not a matter of good and bad individuals, but rather a commitment to confronting and changing the system. It requires a long and difficult struggle that passes through a number of stages, in which the active forces may sometimes disagree over how to proceed.

What matters most, however, is that the torch is not dropped, criticism is not suppressed, our will does not falter, and hope is not extinguished.

Charbel Nahas is an economist and the former telecommunications and labor minister of Lebanon.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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