PM Hariri said passing reforms was crucial and once passed would result in a changed and improved Lebanon
In front of a packed crowd at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned, implored, and educated the audience on how critical it was for his newly formed government to pass his plans for legislative reforms.
“This is the last chance, there will be no other,” he said. “We need to make the reforms pass, and we need to start with reforms not projects first. This has to happen first so the rest follows.”
Hariri was speaking at the World Government Summit where heads of state, thought leaders, philanthropists, business tycoons and change makers have convened for the past three days to ‘shape the future’.
Elected for the third time in May 2018, it took Hariri 9 months to win against political gerrymandering and end a deadlock in the country to name a 30-person cabinet.
Stressing that the country has no time to waste he singled out electricity, waste and corruption among the most important areas he needs to fix.
Having to pay two electricity bills is a common complaint in Lebanon, one to the power generation authority, and the other to the generator companies that supply alternative power because the state provider, Electricity du Liban (EDL), is unable provide 24-hour electricity.
Assumed to worth $1bn, the ‘mafia’ is claimed to have considerable influence, enough to prevent legislative reforms that would hinder its operations.
Hariri said a “confrontation” with the illicit industry was inevitable. “The causes for it are what we see spilling over into waste and garbage collection that is not being done adequately. However, now that there is a government, there is consensus against programmes to tackle corruption, electricity, and waste. It wasn’t possible 5 years ago, but now there is a willingness. It will be part of the ministerial statements soon. All the political parties have approved it.”
Expressing optimism at the “new willingness” to succeed in the country, Hariri said Lebanese citizens should look within to improve instead of laying the blame on having to accept displaced Syrians and Palestinians.
Lebanon hosts roughly 1.5 million displaced persons, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the country’s population. The numbers weigh heavily on the country’s economy, which has been burdeded by public debt of $84 billion, 155% of GDP, and unemployment rates of roughly 30%.
“If Lebanon were to blame all its problems on the displaced then it would be wrong. Our laws toward the ease of doing business need to be improved. In the 90s there was an explosion of growth and we were able to absorb many [displaced], but now while they are a challenge, we must look at the positive and not always the negative. If we pass reforms, we can pursue infrastructure projects, and that would help quote a bit,” he said.
Near the end of his session at the Summit, Hariri encouraged youth in Lebanon and the Arab World to maintain hope and expect to see a much improved country soon.
“A lot of the world’s best doctors and engineers are Lebanese. So I don’t believe we lack anything or that any Arab should leave Lebanon to immigrate elsewhere. Our key problem is ourselves, our outlook and mentality, as well as our technology, and digital platforms. And as the government we will aim to fix all of it,” he said.
The World Government Summit ends today at Mina Salaam in Dubai.