License to steal

Illustration by: Ivan Debs

The Ottomans taught us too well. In exchange for a minimum level of freedom, the rulers of the Empire empowered (and armed) local leaders and tasked them with collecting taxes. Policy makers and stability maintaining were the domain of the central government in Constantinople. This worked brilliantly for the Empire, but in the case of Lebanon, it helped create a mindset that valued rent-seeking over productivity. Hundreds of years later, we are a nation ruled by feudal tax collectors and have lost the policy making and security that once came with it. Our political class has still not learned how to build, develop, and improve a nation, let alone build and bolster a productive economy. Regrettably, our political hierarchy views the state as a cash-cow to milk. Nothing more.

Look no further than our tired roads, clogged with an ageing fleet of vehicles which contribute to the country’s poor air quality. Where is urban planning? Where is a coordinated and regulated public transport strategy? I would venture and ask about electric cars, but with a solidly unreliable supply of electricity, the question answers itself. Our leaders do not make policy. They drain and exhaust us with ever higher import taxes on new cars.

I fear that this situation will not improve, even with the new public-private-partnership (PPP) law, which would have injected an energizing ray of hope for the transport sector. We worry we won’t soon see a new era of nation-building under the PPP law because those who will implement it are more concerned with devouring payoffs than studying  key performance indicators when it comes to public works. To effectively benefit from PPPs, we need a new mindset, not a new law.

Most worrying is the fate of any oil and gas the country may have. Politicians have been playing games with this not-yet-established sector for years now. Those games will  continue, and the Lebanese people will be defrauded as a result.

Our politicians have pursued extractive, not inclusive, economic planning–enriching themselves and leaving the rest of us out in the cold.

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