Lebanon's new government has its work cut out

The inability of the leaders to find a common ground and decide on the portfolios in the new government have been the main causes of delay.

By Christiane Waked (Regional Mix)

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Published: Sat 2 Feb 2019, 8:54 PM

Last updated: Sat 2 Feb 2019, 10:56 PM

The Lebanese politicians have finally broken the nine-month deadlock to form a government. The government, which will be led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, includes four women, and reinstates Gebran Bassil as the minister of foreign affairs.
Lebanon has been brought to the edge of financial ruin in the last nine months. Since the elections in May 2018, political bickering led to a stalemate. The inability of the leaders to find a common ground and decide on the portfolios in the new government have been the main causes of delay.
Hariri's announcement has brought relief, and congratulatory messages have been pouring in from around the world. The United States has expressed its support to the new government. In a post on the social media, the US embassy in Beirut said it welcomes the formation of the new government, and hopes the leaders will uphold their commitments to international resolutions and meet the aspirations and needs of the Lebanese.
However, Washington is likely to continue exerting pressure on Hezbollah, which it considers a serious threat to its interests as well as the interests and security of its allies in the region.
On another hand, the international community is also happy to see that its constant pressure has led to a positive result with the announcement of the formation of the government.
Lebanon has been struggling with its economy in recession. The unemployment rate is high and the infrastructure is crumbling, and needs investment. With a population of about four million, Lebanon hosts the greatest concentration of refugees per capita in the world (more than 40 per cent of the demographic mass of Lebanon). This has created an overwhelming pressure on the country's utilities and stability. Nearly 2.5 million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Palestine have found refuge in Lebanon.
Lebanon has one of the world's highest debt-to-GDP ratios at around 149 per cent. And this has been affecting the Lebanese community in every aspect of their lives.
The Lebanese economy needs urgent attention of the government. The leaders should start thinking of solutions that can ease the burden on the Lebanese, and find ways to better utilise the aid doled out by the international community.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri struck the right notes in this regard during his speech after the announcing the new government. He said the economy is the main challenge and that the new government would be forced to "take difficult decisions" to reduce spending. He also emphasised that the reforms are needed to address dire public finances and unlock billions of dollars in pledged aid and loans to boost low growth.
Later, Hariri also tweeted on the same lines, which made people happy. After a long wait of nine months, the Lebanese expect the government to work and put the country back on a stable growth trajectory. The long process of government formation has disrupted work processes and lives, and has pushed the country further into a slowdown.
Recently, the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co proposed a wide vision for the Lebanese economy, advising the leaders on how the country can become a hub for wealth-management and investment banking solutions. It also proposed making Lebanon a provider of medicinal cannabis. The consulting firm has a roadmap for Lebanon. The report suggests ways to utilise the financial aid committed to the government by participants in the Cedar Conference. The new government should study it and see if there are some points worth taking and working on.
Formation of the government is not the goal, it is means for Lebanon's true renaissance.
The government should get to work and inspire confidence in the people, many of whom have lost hope of any change on the ground.
Christiane Waked is a Political analyst based in Beirut

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