Self absorbed

Our vain donkey has failed us, time to get back on a horse

Illustration by: Ivan Debs

Donkeys deserve more respect than they get. For some 5,000 years, humans have been using them as strong, reliable beasts of burden. We’ve made progress on the backs of these noble creatures, yet denounce them for a strength of will we praise in ourselves. Intransigence is in the eye of the taskmaster, it seems. Donkeys aren’t stubborn because they’re lazy. A donkey’s stubbornness actually belies its intelligence. While humans can poke and prod horses to do nearly anything, if a donkey senses it is being pushed to act against its self-interest, it won’t budge. Hardly ideal for a work animal, but a respectable trait nonetheless. That said, a donkey will never win the Triple Crown. For both strength and speed, the more malleable horse is a far better bet. Lebanon’s economy needs a horse. The donkey we’ve been riding is old, tired and clearly not up to meeting new challenges with anything that resembles swiftness.

Our system is our donkey. Not parliament, cabinet or the presidency as such, but the whole confessional, consensual system. The so-called 1 percent have a disproportionate amount of power the world over, but Lebanon’s elite have their status further protected because each is a guardian of a self-absorbed community worried about its own interests and protection rather than the creation of a strong and functioning state that could benefit all citizens. Our donkey is at once the people in power, but also, the unwritten compromise that keeps them there and paralyzes decision making in this country.

While the donkey has overseen some decent economic times in the past 25 years, recent times have proven just how useless our donkey has become. While the Great Recession did little damage to the Lebanese economy, fallout from the civil war in Syria has been devastating. As growth fell from 8 percent in 2010 to 2 percent in 2011, as per World Bank figures, the donkey didn’t budge. And it has only barely moved since. This stands in stark contrast to Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, which has proven to be a thoroughbred, albeit one still confined to the paddock. Boosting growth is not BDL’s job, yet the institution has been doing all it can in this regard as the donkey munches grass, neither inspired to follow suit, nor willing to lend a hoof. In the past five years, BDL used subsidies and circulars in an effort to prop up the so-called pillars of Lebanon’s economy, real estate, tourism and banking. The hardest hit – real estate – has received the most help, and BDL still claims responsibility for 50 percent of growth since 2012, which Executive is unable to verify. The donkey makes no such boasts.

Our system is our donkey. Not parliament, cabinet or the presidency as such, but the whole confessional, consensual system

This is infuriating. In the pages that follow, the donkey’s dereliction of duty is well documented. Seven years after a plan for fixing the electricity sector won the donkey’s support, nothing has changed. In fact, the donkey is still munching on the same plan it approved but never implemented. Two electricity bills drain households of disposable income and restrict the regional competitiveness of local industry. Twenty-four hours of state-supplied electricity by 2015, as the donkey promised in 2010, would have had a cumulative impact by now.

For its handling of telecommunications – particularly the quality of internet service in the country – the donkey deserves a beating. Download speeds in Lebanon have been kept very slow on purpose in recent years. While blame for this is often laid at the feet of one man, the donkey kept that man in place. A World Bank study from 2009 found that a 10 percent increase in access to fast internet gives GDP growth a recurring 1.3 percent boost in developing countries. Again, widespread, faster internet was possible years ago and our economy would be stronger today had the donkey but moved.

The donkey also delayed the launch of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector, and could yet stand in the way once again. To explore the country’s offshore potential, wells must be drilled. That won’t happen without contracts between the government and companies qualified to do that drilling. Contracts were supposed to be signed back in 2013, but the donkey failed to pass two needed decrees. While the donkey passed the decrees in January, we need a donkey to sign contracts in November, but might not have one, as the donkey’s plans for long-overdue parliamentary elections are anything but clear. The donkey’s refusal to choose an electoral law adds an unnecessary and unwelcome element of uncertainty onto an already disastrous economic situation.

The donkey is a losing bet. We’ve done all we can to push it into action over the years, with little to show for our efforts. It’s time to ditch the donkey and start betting on a horse.

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