We business journalists are often invited to dinners and lunches along with many heads of private sector companies. Without fail, we are asked about the outlook for the economy, as if, in our opaque world, the press has its own special-issue, X-ray glasses.
The answer is normally a variation on a rather depressing theme: that we tend to hear what the government isn’t doing rather than what it is. Simply put, there is no national plan with which to asses the state’s vision, especially as the year to date has been characterized more by politics than economic strategy, which appears to have not been included in the so-called national dialogue.
In fact, anyone would think that the role of the government was just to manage the debt, that or offer us conflicting outlooks for the fiscal and monetary situations. At ministerial level, we have not heard much from Mr. Haddad at Economy and only the tiniest of squeaks from Mr. Gemayel and his bumper sticker campaign at Industry. Where are our plans for agriculture, industry and tourism? Don’t tell us that there are no more jobs to create or no more natural resources or assets to exploit. We just don’t buy it. Stop telling us what we can’t produce and start telling us what we can. So where is the plan?
You see without a plan there is no speculation and without speculation there is no investment and without investment there is no growth. Or are we just happy to be a good-time country living off birds, booze and beaches.
In this month’s special section, we look at the recent interest in Lebanese real estate. We can identify pockets of initiative to encourage speculation, flowering in what is still largely a wasteland. If we are so clever, why have we not taken a leaf out of the books of recent regional success stories and use property development as a vehicle for investment? The government should grasp the nettle and initiate this culture or at the very least invite those who can, to come and do so.
But sadly till now we have heard nothing. So this is why the last time I was asked about the economic outlook I turned to the gentleman and said. “You are on your own but you have succeeded nonetheless. For the time being stay that way, for it seems we can only rely on ourselves.”