At what point will Lebanon's government see the emergency?

The country's Council of Ministers should convene as a matter of urgency

Lebanon’s constitution allows a caretaker government to meet in emergency situations. Are we in Lebanon not in a situation of extreme emergency? All the more so as the new government might not be appointed any time soon, despite that being a precondition to the implementation of the real solution to our problems, through a rescue plan with the International Monetary Fund and the reforms necessary to obtain the help of the international community.

We have no more gasoline, no more diesel oil, no more transportation, no more imports, no more medicine, no more electricity and no more bread. Soon we will have no more water, no more food and no more internet. Is this not an extreme emergency?

One by one, pharmacies and bakeries are shutting down, hospitals and factories will close their doors. Is this not an extreme emergency?

Employees will no longer able to come to work. In a few days at most, supermarkets, restaurants and businesses will close as well. The contents of industrial freezers, including those where chickens and meat are stored, will be go bad within days. Refrigerators in homes and businesses will no longer work. Is this not an extreme emergency?

Soon we will have no more water

Animals and plants soon will no longer be available to prevent famine. Indeed, the shortage of fuel oil will prevent farmers from watering their land, and due to lack of food, farmers will no longer be able to feed their animals, which will die little by little. Is this not an extreme emergency?

This is where we are heading at the speed of light. Should we just wait until we see Lebanon destroyed and the Lebanese falling into famine? Or should we decide to convene the Council of Ministers as a matter of urgency?

One might say: “Yes, but what would be the agenda?”

Well, instead of having everyone put the blame on everyone else, we will take urgent and necessary decisions either against the Central Bank or to address the disastrous consequences of its decision – which it claims to be irrevocable – to no longer subsidise petroleum products, to reduce subsidies on medicines and to continue to subsidise wheat.

We could also decide whether to accept the real market prices of petroleum products and therefore of related services and products, such as bread and public transport or, on the contrary, ask Parliament to authorise the Central Bank to use its obligatory reserves under well-defined and limited conditions (as the Central Bank itself demands, rightly or wrongly) or even decide on a special subsidy plan for certain sectors such as hospitals, public transport, bakeries, mills, etc.

Here, it is necessary to remember that Lebanon’s Ministry of Economy and Trade had prepared, with the support of the World Bank in August 2020, a plan to subsidise families, instead of subsidising products. If the government had agreed to prepare and implement this plan on time, we would not be in such a disastrous situation, and there would not have been throughout all this time so much abuse, theft, hoarding and contraband, and we would have had about $3.5 billion more in the reserves of the Central Bank.

It is not too late.

We must act at all costs. Immediately. An open-ended and uninterrupted session of the Council of Ministers, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, is essential. It will take the time it takes, but the looming famine must be prevented at all costs.

Published: August 19th 2021, 2:02 PM
Raoul Nehme

Raoul Nehme

Raoul Nehme is Lebanon's Minister of Economy and Trade.