After missing self-imposed deadline after deadline, our cabinet has finally agreed on the terms of the reformist budget, passed to Parliament on May 30 for more bickering. Never mind that it is now June, and we still have no budget set for 2019. Nor that projected rate of reduction of the budget deficit seems more like a slight of hand, at best.
Our political class were careful in who they targeted to pay the price for these new austerity measures. Not their followers, whose support is maintained by way of unwarranted transactions and the granting of jobs without legal definitions. No, those bearing the brunt are those without a vote—such as our proud military pensioners. This reformist budget will also require more from us, the citizens, via direct and indirect taxation.
If Lebanon was a corporation, its management would need to be fired and fired fast. A company’s budget ought to be accurate and be pegged to the strategic objectives of the firm. As we see it now, Lebanon has no vision, no common mission, no productive and strategic objectives that will allow the country to compete in the region and an increasingly globalized world.
This budget, which fails to strategize the country’s resources, is not sufficient to appraise the performance of our government. How do we tell if a government is doing its job well? We judge this by checking if it has managed to lower unemployment, if its policies have resulted in a vibrant and purposeful private sector, if it has managed to improve the balance of payments and trade—all this while minimizing any damage to the environment and society. Management cannot call in the CFO and just order him to cook the books with a sole aim of getting additional debt. The CEO has to create the conditions upon which the CFO can balance the books. In an economy, this means it is the government’s responsibility to present to its citizens a strategy that aims to increase productivity, boost agriculture and industry, and improve services and trade in a cost-efficient way.
When success is measured by counting numbers, you only end up with a self-devouring behavior. That is what explains the attack on our banking industry. Whether you like it or not, the banking sector is the only industry in Lebanon that is fully compliant with international standards—it has to be or it risks being shut off from the world. It contributes the most in taxes, and is the most transparent about its economic activity. And what do we do? Shove the banks and citizen’s deposits into the middle of the conflict and inflame anxiety, rather than shielding them from the immature manipulation of politicians.
There is a vindictive propaganda targeting banks in Lebanon. One that claims that banks feed off the government—the opposite is true. In the last 20 years the banks have massively reduced their exposure to the government; they have sought to pull away from the state’s mess yet get sucked back in time and time again. What lies ahead is, in the best case scenario, reforms and temporary scarcity. Such will be the circumstances under which blaming the banks will not achieve anything bar allowing some people to vent their frustrations and others to sow discontent and spread dangerous lies. Whom will this serve? No one but those who benefit from a weaker Lebanon.