Fraying of the state threatens Lebanon with chaos

Given current conditions, Lebanon will be engulfed in chaos that Hezbollah’s weapons will not be able to control.
Sunday 12/08/2018
A Lebanese protester holds a placard during a demonstration against corruption in Beirut. (AP)
On the brink. A Lebanese protester holds a placard during a demonstration against corruption in Beirut. (AP)

Financial and economic crises have been piling up in Lebanon without signs of the political authorities planning to face them. On the contrary, there is an unreasonable stubbornness to follow the same path that led to the state’s failure to ensure even the minimum of its responsibilities towards its citizens.

Not even the results of the elections three months ago were incentive enough to implement a new model for managing public affairs. The only outcome has been the insistence by all parties to maintain the corruption-infested quota system of power sharing. It is foolish to expect the spiral of corruption to stop by resorting to the same tool that had created it.

That political equation that encouraged the policy of looting the public treasury and the economy cannot produce anything different. Let’s not forget that the political authority in Lebanon passed an election law tailor-made to the narrow interests of the country’s political components. So, elections are just one carefully designed instrument to reproduce the same corrupt system — with slight modifications — that will never change things for the better.

Lebanon is suffering a haemorrhage that portends financial and economic collapse.

The social situation is no better and some parties have suggested legalising growing hemp for medicinal purposes. Such a suggestion reflects an escapist attitude in the painful absence of any development plans.

Such plans would require the state to take a firm stand about certain priorities, including the need for the Lebanese state to have its official and legitimate institutions and agencies take control of every inch of Lebanese territory and end the shameful sharing of state authority with militias.

There is no mystery about it. Economic recovery requires investments. To attract them, there is a need for a minimal level of security and political stability in addition to clearly showing who’s in control. The freedom of transferring funds must be guaranteed. However, Lebanon’s banking system is facing US sanctions because the US Treasury is convinced Hezbollah has been using Lebanon’s banking system for illegal operations.

As the battle for the composition of the new government rages, corruption scandals keep popping up. That includes Lebanon’s electricity public works, which has revealed how deeply involved certain parties are in siphoning off public funds. It is known that the electricity sector is subjected to a complex quota scheme designed to drive the electricity public works to the ground for the benefit of certain political parties.

Producing and distributing electricity in Lebanon is the monopoly of Lebanon Electricity, a public agency. In recent years, however, a parallel sector of private electricity generators has been slowly put in place at the tune of $1 billion. This sector is the monopoly and cash cow of certain political forces. These same forces were revealed to be behind blocking the return of the electricity monopoly to Lebanon Electricity.

The extent of corruption and malfeasance in this sector is mind-boggling. Subsidised fuel and diesel meant for Lebanon Electricity were sold cheaply to the private electricity producers. Some public power plants were shut off illegally so fuel could be dispersed in this manner.

The state and its institutions have been weakened and fail to end the robberies in broad daylight. The judiciary has become either prisoner of the political authority or unable to carry out its mission. Things have fallen so low in the management of public affairs in Lebanon that nothing short of a total revolution in the way political authority deals with public administration can remedy the situation.

Lebanon has depended for so long on aid from the Gulf and Europe to cover losses due to corruption. Now, that aid is either very limited or has completely disappeared. With the absence of fresh foreign investment, the Lebanese Treasury has become strained to a breaking point while the greed of some political forces for more projects to siphon off public funds has reached alarming proportions.

The necessity of change in Lebanon is no longer a debatable issue; it has become a vital question for the state. Either implement changes to stop the looting of the public treasury and economy or the whole edifice will crumble.

As long as strategic decisions in Lebanon remain hijacked by foreign influence through Hezbollah, there is no hope for Lebanon to escape the spiral created by the evil quota system except by placing Lebanon under international stewardship. This type of oversight is not possible now and, above all, it is not what Lebanon wants.

Lebanon is increasingly dependent on foreign support to fix its public finances and its infrastructure but it seems the country’s capacity to support the right channels is contingent on the availability of a strong political authority, which does not exist.

Given current conditions and regardless of whether the support in question will be made available, the country will be engulfed in chaos that Hezbollah’s weapons will not be able to control.

We are witnessing signs of that chaos in more than one area in Lebanon and particularly in Hezbollah’s fiefdom in the Bekaa Valley, where even promises to legalise hemp were not enough to lower public anger and frustration.