Samy Gemayel, 29, is currently the General Coordinator of the Central Committee of the Kataeb (Phalanges) Party. He is also the son of former Lebanese President and current Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel. Samy Gemayel is running for the Maronite seat in the Metn electoral district.
E The United Nations estimates that 28.5 percent of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line and 300,000 people live in extreme poverty. What will you do to elevate the poverty situation?
The whole economy should be more organized. You have to make structural changes.
First of all we think that the lack of stability is the main cause of economic problems in Lebanon. A good economy needs investment and investment need stability… Investments will create jobs. Jobs will create income and that income will help consumers to be more active. It’s the whole process of the economy that starts with investment… If you don’t have investment you don’t have any economy.
With regards to poverty, first we have to create jobs. In order to create jobs, we need an institution that helps people create jobs. That’s why we have a project to create something like NPE [“Nouvelles Politiques de L’emploie – New Politics of Employment”], like in France. It’s a public institution that consolidates all the offers and the demands on jobs in order to link people. We need to create this institution and it’s not present. If people work they will have an income and the poverty problem will be solved.
Also, the personal income tax should be progressive. This is a very important point because you cannot use the same taxes on all people. Actually, you have today taxation on luxury products; we put taxes on them but this is not sufficient. Maybe we can make more money with the cigarettes. The cost of cigarettes in Lebanon is too low. By increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes, you can use the money to invest in medical research, hospitals and medical care and help the poverty situation.
E EDL has been a drain on the budget for over a decade. What will you do to decrease expenditure, improve efficiency and take the industry forward?
We think that some sides of EDL should be subject to privatization. The distribution should be privatized and the collection of bills should also be privatized. The problem of EDL is that today only 60 percent of the production of EDL is being billed. We don’t know where 40 percent of the production is going.
First, you have to bring someone from the outside to put their hands on EDL because corruption is the main problem. The second problem is that the 60 percent that is billed, only 60 percent of that [initial] 60 percent is being paid for. That’s why we have a problem with EDL and it is the main cause of the debt.
In order to stop that we have to understand that this is the main cause of the economic problem and we have to bring consultants and find a way to stop this wastefulness. The way to stop that is to privatize some of the sections of EDL, not all. Just the collection, distribution and the billing processes.
E In order to service Lebanon’s mountain of debt, policy has always been enacted to tax the private sector. Will this continue under your party and what will you do to spur on private sector growth?
Firstly, there are public institutions that should be privatized. Then, you need to have laws organizing the relations between the public and the private sector. Public private partnership is a very important point for us, in terms of economics, in order to make the private sector more efficient and more attractive. We think the service sector should not be the main focus of the economy because it is too influenced by the stability of the country. Agriculture and industry are less affected by economic problems related to stability and they create jobs, more jobs than the service sector. We think, especially for young people, that there should be no tax on initiatives taken by young people who create companies, new industries or inventions in order to encourage the new generation to invest in Lebanon and to encourage creativity for everyone.
E The debt servicing is also weighing heavily on Lebanon. How will you reallocate inflows and payments to service this debt while still maintaining public services and decrease the budget deficit?
The first thing is to stop corruption because if the money you inject into the Lebanese economy goes into corruption, there is no way that this economy will stand up even if you do Paris I, Paris II and Paris III. If this money is not well invested or reserved; there is no chance that this economy will stand up anyway. We don’t think that adding more and more debt on Lebanon will help in any way. I think that the first thing to do is to stop corruption before bringing more money in, because otherwise it’s like a pocket with a hole in it.
E What mechanism would you propose to deal with the issue of corruption?
I think that first we should privatize. The best way to stop corruption is to privatize, to organize and to create a central agency to fight corruption.
E What initiatives will you take to decrease Lebanon’s risk factor with respect to investment, encouraging competition and diffuse political elements that increase the risk factor?
You need a strong state and no weapons outside of Lebanese jurisdiction.
E Do you mean weapons entering the country?
Not only the weapons entering the country. We have to get rid of the weapons that are inside the country today, with the Palestinians and with Hizbullah. Once we have a state acting with full sovereignty in all of its territories, then it will be easier for us to impose stability and to impose a viable state that will, for sure, bring a lot of investments to Lebanon.
E Will you be talking with the Palestinians and Hizbullah about the best way to move forward?
We are talking about the Lebanese government, which will have this role or principle as a main target, to impose the sovereignty or order of the law on all the Lebanese territories in order to have stability.
E Recently the ILO reported that 22,000 students dropped out of schools in Lebanon. What will you do to keep children in school?
In all civilized and modern countries every person under 18 years old should be in school. It’s not a right; it’s an obligation. We will promote free and obligatory schooling for all people under 18. When I lived in France, I was once arrested in the street at 9 a.m. because I didn’t go to school in the morning. If you want any development you need all the people to be educated, to be in school and have a minimum [level of] education.
E The balance of payments remains in the black but is dragged down by the balance of trade. What will you do to increase trade efficiency and volume and maintain a positive balance of payments?
The balance of trade is related to the situation of the economy in general. If the economy stands up and that state makes a good plan to reactivate all the sectors of the economy, as we planned before, then I think the whole balance will be up again [sic].
E Privatization of the telecom industry has been stifled by politics and market conditions. How will you encourage competition and root out bad governance in the sector?
In all the countries in the world when they have a big problem like that, they bring in consultants. I don’t know why Lebanon doesn’t believe in consultants even if it is the most efficient way to improve [the situation]. It is not normal, in Lebanon, to have only two companies having a duopoly on the mobile telecom industry. There should be many more companies competing between each other in the interest of the people. When you compete prices go down so for sure you have to privatize [the industry].