Indicators of Fear Over Lebanon’s Fate
Indicators of Fear Over Lebanon’s Fate
The lid on corruption files has been blown wide open and numbers have been tumbling on heads. 350 million US dollars in bribes, on average, have been paid every year in the fuel import business, 3.5 billion USD in the last ten years. The Governor of the Central Bank revealed substantial inflation in the price imports and announced that since 2015, the volume of smuggling has reached 4 billion USD a year, adding up to around 20 billion USD in the last five years, all spent to support the Syrian regime.
Everybody is watching televised videos of the smuggling, across around 126 illegal ports, all under Hezbollah’s supervision. Among the commodities smuggled was fuel that was 85% subsidized by the Central Bank and equally subsidized wheat. Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper, Al-Akhbar, has “volunteered” to clarify that the wheat that was smuggled is only “soft wheat needed to produce tourist bread”!! It is being said that the Syrian regime is accumulating these strategic imports before the US implements the new sanctions against Syria as per the Caesar Law! The result is that the dollars left in the Central Bank are being drained while the pockets of government and cartel mobsters are pumped, with the “mini-state” providing a part of funding them.
Press conference after press conference has been held to absolve Hezbollah and throw the responsibility on the “other”. The government is the most prominent absentee in the scene, with no ability to practice its authority and no capacity to manage the crisis, only an infiltrated front. It appears unconcerned with the events that have deepened the collapse and worsened bankruptcy.
The government has launched a deceptive campaign concerning the success of the “official strategy” against coronavirus, while the Prime Minister and his cabinet repeatedly discuss global admiration of the Lebanese “experience” in “overcoming” the virus. Suddenly, this gave way to easing the lockdown and the issuing of a timetable for the gradual reopening of institutions and jobs. The people, who were in quarantine and whose money is confiscated in the banks, believed this and traffic started to return. What is hideous is that some state institutions also believed the lie. The second phase of repatriation resembled the early stages of the pandemic, when the airport was still open and the infection was allowed to spread, as crowded planes returned, one by one, with passengers crammed, amid reports that there were positive cases among them. Subsequently, the infection spread as a result of this repatriation that was not accompanied by a mandatory quarantine. Concomitantly, news about very few daily tests being done also spread while citizens were held responsible and the government reinstated strict lockdown measures on the evening of the 13th of this month until the morning of the 18th without an accompanying increase in testing.
What is funny, in this context, is that nobody questioned the relevant body for easing the lockdown. Whose opinion matters, and who makes the decisions? What are the relevant considerations? Are they politicians and economists or doctors and epidemiologists? In France, for example, the National Assembly announced an easing of the lockdown based on 32 indicators set by scientists and experts delineating the conditions for reinstating the lockdown. If we wanted to seriously compare how the world has dealt with the pandemic we would clearly see that there was a lack of vision based on the incompetence of amateurs who are unfortunately in decision-making positions, aggravating desperation and fear over the fate of citizens and the country.
On April 30, the government/ front issued the so-called “monetary recovery” plan. Those who drafted this plan were careful to meet all of the conditions usually set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including floating the exchange rate, freezing salaries, which have already been substantially reduced, reducing pensions, freezing employment while unemployment rates exceed 50% of those who are in the age of employment, and all sorts of austerity measures to reduce the consumption bill to improve the balance-of-payment, etc.. The plan stipulated that the share of salaries and pensions will be reduced from 31% to around 10%. In other words, it stipulated to destroy the lives of the majority of Lebanese.
Let us stop and examine some aspects of this. The collapse and bankruptcy, and then the pandemic and the requirements of quarantine, reveal how the government is only nominally addressing these crises and the extent of the primitiveness of the measures that were taken to support those whom the government considered the most impoverished. Indeed, it ignored the majority of the Lebanese, who need protection. Before the pandemic, the IMF predicted that poverty levels would exceed 50%, yet it wanted to put the burden on the public without any horizon for what the situation in Lebanon would be like in five years. The plan that is being negotiated with the IMF indeed includes an audit of the financial losses that have been incurred for decades, and this is new and important. However, it lacks a real survey of what the state possesses but is not included in its revenues, and it also did not mention the volume of thievery and looting that has taken place over the last decades and is still ongoing through blatant deals and smuggling! There appears to be no serious endeavor to retrieve what belongs to the state and, by extension, to the Lebanese people.
One of the most prominent shortcomings of this “financial recovery” plan is that it entirely ignores what is most important, that many of the state’s faculties are subdued by a mini-state, and what mini-state is that? The Hezbollah mini-state classified as a terrorist organization by the countries that are most influential on the IMF’s decisions. The US alone has 17 votes, and with its allies like the United Kingdom and Germany, it garners more than 50 votes. How will things play out when Lebanon is requesting a 10 billion USD loan from the IMF while everyone watched convoys smuggle fuel, wheat, and dollars to Syria and it was revealed that some of the speculators on the Lebanese pound were Iranian money converters who were assigned to drain dollars from the Lebanese market for the Iranian mullahs!
With the new developments in the region, especially the crisis that the Shiite Crescent project has suffered, the changes taking place in Iraq, and the tactical withdrawals of Iran-led factions from Syria, Lebanon cannot be on a path toward recovery with the borders remaining unmonitored and sovereignty being repeatedly violated. In fact, taking back sovereignty is necessary to fight corruption and retrieve looted money. It is no longer possible to ignore the truth that the threat of the large collapse that looms over Lebanon and threatens its existence is primarily caused by political choices that were imposed on the country. When the October Revolution proposes a transition phase led by a government independent of sectarian and corrupt parties, it is actually highlighting that the problem is primarily political and that only a political solution would clear the way for economic solutions and actual rescue and recovery.