Last week, the Lebanese government agreed on its policy statement which sets the main objectives of the new Cabinet that was finally formed on January 31, after nine months of wrangling over ministerial shares.
Below is the unofficial translation of the policy statement based on which the government is seeking to win the Parliament’s vote of confidence this week.
Your Excellency the Parliament Speaker, fellow colleagues
We want this government to be a government of actions, not words. We want it to be a government of bold decisions and reforms that can no longer be evaded. We want it to be a government that curbs administrative flaws, financial corruption and tax evasion. We want it to be a government that alleviates the Lebanese people’s suffering, meets the youth’s aspirations, and sets political, security, economic and social stability for all citizens as its top priorities.
This government has no time to waste given that its agenda is riddled with challenges, including investment boost, spending rationalization, corruption fight, and growth stimulation in a bid to reduce poverty and unemployment rates.
One of the basic requirements to deal with these challenges is to launch joint efforts and cooperation between the executive and legislative authorities in order pull the country out of the state of economic and social anxiety, and to reduce the people’s complaints about the lack of fundamental state services. These efforts would help move the country into a state of much-anticipated stability, and restore the citizens’ confidence in the State, its institutions, and its ability to carry out reforms and to modernize itself.
We are all on the same boat; the holes jeopardizing it are perceived by everyone. Therefore, it’s useless to trade blame.
What we need today are bold and specific decisions, legislations and reforms. They might be hard and painful so as to avoid a further deterioration of the economic, financial and social situation; a goal that the government will seek to achieve with full transparency, determination and solidarity between its components, upon the instructions of the President of the Republic and amid continuous coordination with the Parliament.
We have now a rare opportunity of rescue and reform; it is the responsibility of each of the political factions taking part in the authority to not miss it, to opt for positive complementarity with the opposition, and to work, without any delay, on achieving the pledges that we’ve made to the Lebanese as well as sister and friendly countries that gathered to support Lebanon.
Recent years have witnessed remarkable breakthroughs which we must count on to achieve economic growth and to get out of the state of despair. The Lebanese have succeeded in safeguarding civil peace and coexistence despite the wars and crises that have swept through the entire region, in holding onto dialogue as a way to resolve differences as well as onto dissociation towards policies that disrupt ties with Arab countries.
The government deems the Taef Accord and the Constitution deriving from it as the basis for the maintenance of stability and civil peace, the main guarantor of national balance, and the sole regulator of relations between the constitutional institutions. It also pledges to rally around the Army and security forces in the fight against terrorism and Israeli spy networks, and to consolidate the Judiciary’s authority and independence in fulfilling its mission. Today, the Lebanese are aspiring to the State and its institutions to succeed the available chance for revival.
Our government is committed to the fast and effective implementation of an economic, reformist, investment, service-based and social program which relies on the basic foundations mentioned in the Lebanese government’s vision presented at the CEDRE conference and the recommendations of the Economic and Social Council.
This program is a comprehensive package of financial, investment and sectorial legislations, as well as reformist measures whose success is linked to its integrality (i.e. not fragmenting or randomly picking what reforms should be undertaken) and interconnection with the recommendations put forth in the economic study carried out by the McKinsey consultancy company.
1. Public Investment
• Speeding up the execution of the projects whose funds, estimated at $3.3 billion, have been secured before the CEDRE conference, and implementing the investment spending program, as stated at the CEDRE conference. This program is estimated at $17 billion to be invested over a period of eight years after the government endorses the relevant projects and requirements. A sum of $5 billion out of the program’s total value will be financed by the local and foreign private sector within the framework of the partnership mechanism between the public and private sectors. A periodic review of the investment program will be carried out with the aim of updating and developing it according to the State’s needs and priorities. The necessary funds will be secured for the State’s acquisitions.
2. Financial and Monetary Stability
• Adopting a consistent monetary and financial policy that reinforces confidence in the national economy and reduces the public debt-to-GDP ratio, notably by increasing the size of the economy and reducing the budget deficit.
• Once it wins the Parliament’s vote of confidence, the government will start discussing the 2019 draft budget law with the aim of approving it, and will refer the audit of previous years’ financial accounts to the Parliament.
• Undertaking a financial adjustment, starting with the 2019 budget, of at least 1% per annum of the GDP over a period of five years by increasing revenues and reducing the spending; this would start with decreasing the annual deficit of the Electricite du Liban until it is totally abolished.
• Expanding the taxpayer base, activating tax collection, combating squandering, ending customs and tax evasion, and updating the laws and work methods of the tax administration.
• Applying fairness and equality between the beneficiaries of the funds and institutions in the public sector so as to ease the burden on the treasury. Reducing allocations granted to non-profit organizations and other bodies, reconsidering their classification as part of new policies based on transparency and unified standards, and benefiting from the recommendations of the Economic and Social Council.
• Reducing consumption expenditures by at least 20% compared to the 2018 budget.
• Implementing the law of the program related to the establishment of public institutions’ buildings in order to reduce rental costs.
• Activating financial governance by boosting the budget’s transparency, advancing the level of the electronic services provided by the Finance Ministry, consolidating accountability and developing internal auditing.
• Opting for soft financing sources for development and investment projects, by resorting to international and Arab funds and institutions, and involving the private sector in infrastructure projects.
• Upholding the policy pertaining to the exchange rate of the national currency, knowing that it is a priority for social and economic stability.
3. Public Sector Modernization
• Implementing the reforms aimed at modernizing the public administration and controlling expenditures, as stipulated by Law No. 46 (ratified on August 21, 2017). These reforms include:
1) Freezing employment and volunteer recruitment during the year 2019, in all its forms and denominations (contracted, daily-paid workers, services purchase, etc), in all public administrations and institutions as well as military and security agencies. In the following four years, employment and volunteer recruitment will be equal to half the annual number of retirees, provided that the budget deficit then is reduced by no less than the percentage mentioned in this statement.
2) Restructuring the public sector through a comprehensive and descriptive study that indicates the employees’ number and productivity, as well as vacancies and superfluous posts. Accordingly, the functional needs of all departments, institutions and councils would be determined for the short and medium terms.
3) Reforming the pension systems in the public sector.
4) Reviewing the United Nations’ development joint programs with the public administrations.
5) Appointing members of the administrative boards in public institutions and mixed companies.
4. Structural Reforms
• Implementing laws and issuing the relevant regulatory decrees.
• Approving the national anti-corruption strategy, the relevant draft laws and its executive program. Issuing the regulatory decrees pertaining to the Right to Access Information Law.
• Proceeding with the implementation of customs reforms by simplifying procedures in partnership with the private sector, updating regulations and activating electronic payment.
• Applying the e-government in the public administrations and institutions, wherever it is applicable, in preparation for the adoption of the comprehensive strategy of digital government and an executive program for it.
• Modernizing the public procurement and tenders law, preparing and approving standard conditions books to boost transparency.
• Improving the business environment through the adoption of a series of draft laws related to the enhancement of the institutions and companies’ work, notably:
1) Draft law on land trade, including the provisions related to companies and institutions
2) Draft law on private employment companies
3) Draft law on real guarantees on movables
4) Draft law on business rescue, restructuring and liquidation
5) Draft law on insolvency agents in Lebanon to protect creditors
6) Draft laws on intellectual property (literary and artistic property, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic coordinates)
• Developing the financial markets by transforming the Beirut Stock Exchange into a joint stock company, and launching the electronic trading platform.
5. Sectorial Reforms
- Energy Sector:
• Committing to partnership with the private sector to provide a 24/24 power supply as soon as possible, in accordance with the laws and regulations in force. Restoring the financial balance of Electricite du Liban by limiting technical and financial waste, and reconsidering the tariffs after the power supply is increased while taking into consideration people with limited income.
• Appointing members of the regulatory authority in accordance with the Electricity Sector Regulatory Law which would be reviewed and modernized.
• Appointing a new administrative board at Electricite du Liban.
• Reducing the cost of production by using natural gas, diversifying the sources of energy production, including renewable energy, improving and developing both the transmission and distribution networks.
- Oil and Gas:
• Consolidating Lebanon’s full right to benefit from its natural resources within the Exclusive Economic Zone by confirming its maritime borders.
• Completing the second round of offshore blocks licensing by the end of 2019.
• Issuing the regulatory decrees pertaining to the Petroleum Transparency Law, and endorsing both the Sovereign Wealth Fund Law and the law for onshore petroleum activities.
- Solid Waste:
• Completing the implementation of the solid waste management plan approved by the previous governments.
• Issuing the regulatory decrees pertaining to the law on the integrated management of solid waste.
- Water and Sanitation:
• Going over, developing and proceeding with the implementation of the national strategy for the water and sanitation sector which was approved by the government in 2012.
• Setting up a general policy for the telecommunication sector; one that aims at liberating it and opening it up to the private sector investments as part of a comprehensive vision that takes into consideration technical advancements, and involves the application and development of the Telecommunication Law (number 431).
• Appointing the regulatory authority for telecommunications and assigning members of Liban Telecom’s administrative board.
• Updating fixed telecom networks and completing the gradual installation of the fiber-optic broadband network nationwide by the end of 2020.
• Providing high-quality coverage nationwide for the 3G, 4G, and 5G cellular networks.
• Proceeding with the policy of reducing the costs of phone calls and Internet services.
• Establishing a national data center which includes the Cloud technique in cooperation with the private sector, while respecting the confidentiality of the information.
• Installing a third submarine cable that directly links Lebanon to Europe, and preparing Lebanon to become a regional Tier-2 Internet hub in collaboration with the private sector.
• Setting an integral strategy to move into digital economy and establish a cybersecurity system.
• The government pledges to accord the necessary importance to the public transportation file so that it regains its role, and to benefit from the private sector in the land, sea, and air transport fields.
• Appointing members of the regulatory body of civil aviation as well as the managing councils of the ports.
• Appointing members of the management councils that run the sea and land transport, and opening the door for the private sector’s participation.
• Taking the necessary measures to dissolve the Information Ministry and to form the Higher Information Committee which would take charge of the management and development of the media sector in Lebanon.
8. Production and Service Sectors
• Adopting a strategy to diversify the production and service sectors in order to expand the resources of growth, through specific initiatives in the sectors of agriculture, industry, as well as environmental, religious and hospitalization tourism, financial services and knowledge economy. Benefiting from the capacities and expertise of the Lebanese expatriates worldwide.
• Setting out an incentive program to develop productive economic activities and to diversify it, while focusing on agriculture, industry, as well as environmental, religious and hospitalization tourism in order to increase the share of its contribution in the economy, boost its role in development, reduce trade deficit, protect national productions, reevaluate protectionism measures as well as customs exemptions and agreements. Examining and reassessing the methods and mechanisms of support, working hard on marketing the Lebanese products abroad and safeguarding its compliance to international standards by adopting modern technology.
9. Environment Protection
• Carrying out a study that examines the impact before executing any project, as stipulated by the law.
• Implementing the law on cleaning up the Litani River and the Qaraoun Lake, activating a roadmap leading to it, devising and implementing protection plans for other rivers and lakes, and putting an immediate end to sources of pollution.
• Preparing and executing a permanent policy to the sector of sand blowers, quarries and crushers; one that includes the restoration of damaged environmental areas, and the adoption of a guided project to be enforced on the national council for quarries, crushers, administrations and all forces.
• Putting an end to random urban expansion by planning and implementing a policy that protects mountain tops, beaches, agricultural lands and green areas via a readjustment decree.
• Implementing the national strategy for biological diversity and the 2016-2030 work plan endorsed by the previous government.
• Issuing decrees pertaining to the law on the protection of air quality and the stimulation of climate action (Law number 78/ 2018).
10. Healthcare and Social Security
• Broadening the National Poverty Targeting Program, securing the funds needed for it to cover the most impoverished families, and implementing programs to pull people out of poverty.
• Offering comprehensive health coverage to the Lebanese who have no health insurance and endorsing the draft law on pensions and social protection.
• Reinforcing the role of public hospitals and appointing members of its administrative councils.
• Reducing medication prices incurred by the state and the citizens.
• Setting a housing policy and adopting the subsidized loans policy in accordance with the conditions of The Lebanese Public Housing Institute.
• Reforming and modernizing the National Social Security Fund by reviewing its regulations, structure and system, and finding solutions to the problems facing it.
• Modernizing the Labor Law and developing the National Employment Office as part of a plan to reduce unemployment.
• Setting a plan to build central prisons, renovate current detention centers and ensure favorable conditions to rehabilitate inmates in the context of consolidating human rights.
• Applying and developing Law number 220, ratified on May 29, 2005, related to the rights of handicapped, and taking care of the rights of people with disabilities.
• Securing the right to education and its quality in all public schools, preserving the stability of the private educational sector, and seeking to provide Internet access to all institutions.
• Applying a national strategy for education as well as professional and technical training.
• Developing curricula in a way that meets the requirements of national belonging, scientific evolvement and the labor market, especially in the fields of telecommunication and information technology.
• Supporting the Lebanese University, in all its branches and faculties, consolidating its national role, boosting the independence of its bodies and completing appointments within it.
• Executing the Higher Education Law, notably with regard to the accreditation system, as well as activating and strengthening supervision of higher education institutions.
12. Youth and Sports
• Activating the role of public institutions to manage, operate, develop and maintain sport and scouting facilities, while setting out a revival plan for both the youth and sports sectors. Arranging advanced programs on youth policy, especially those related to the motivation of innovation and business. Providing job opportunities.
13. The Displaced
• Providing the necessary funds to continue resolving what is left of the displaced files and the Central Fund for the Displaced in preparation for the annulment of the Ministry of the Displaced and the Central Fund for the Displaced within two years.
14. Sustainable Development Goals
The government will commit to moving forward with the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by merging it with the national plans and programs, as well as adopting a an approach linked to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the “2030 plan.”
The government renews its commitment to the content of President Michel Aoun’s inaugural speech, regarding the fact that Lebanon, which steps between the mines, is still immune to the flames raging around it in the region thanks to the Lebanese people’s unity and commitment to civil peace. It is therefore necessary to dissociate Lebanon from external conflicts, while adhering to the Charter of the Arab League, notably Article 8 thereof, adopting an independent foreign policy based on Lebanon’s higher interest, and respecting international laws in view of safeguarding the country as a platform of peace, stability and encounter.
The government will surely continue to strengthen relations with sister and friendly countries, and to consolidate partnership with the European Union within the bound of mutual respect of national sovereignty. It also affirms its commitment to the international charters and resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolution 1701, as well as to the continuity of the work of the UNIFIL’s peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
As for the conflict with Israel, we shall spare no effort and no resistance to liberate the remaining occupied Lebanese territories, and protect our country from an enemy that still covets our land, water and natural resources.
By virtue of the State’s responsibility and role to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and the safety of its citizens, the government stresses upon the State’s duty and quest to liberate the Shebaa Farms, the Kfarshouba Hills and the Lebanese part of Ghajar village by all legitimate means as well as upon the Lebanese citizens’ right to resist the Israeli occupation, repel its attacks and regain occupied territories.
The government, in compliance with international resolutions, confirms its commitment to establishing and disclosing the truth in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his companions, and will follow up on the progress of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon which was originally set to serve justice and truth away from politicization or revenge whatsoever so as not to affect Lebanon’s stability, unity and civil peace.
With regard to the crime of disappearance of Imam Moussa Al-Sadr and his companions in Libya, the government will double its efforts on all levels, and will support the official follow-up committee to ensure their release and safe return.
The government will continue to work with the international community to honor the pledges it made in terms of dealing with the burdens of the Syrian refugee influx, and to abide by international charters while stressing upon President Michel Aoun’s calls for steering this issue clear of political polarization so as to serve Lebanon’s best interest which should be favored over all else.
The government insists that the only solution is to ensure the safe return of refugees to their homeland and reject all forms of integration in host communities. The government welcomes Russia’s initiative aimed at returning Syrian refugees back to their country, and will work on approving its policy regarding the displaced.
The government reiterates its commitment to the Constitution provisions which reject the naturalization of refugees, notably the Palestinians, and stresses upon their right to return to their homelands. We shall work with sister and friendly countries on finding a solution to the funding crisis of the Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), and maintain the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue so as to spare encampments further tensions and use of arms; something that is rejected by the Lebanese as per the unified Lebanese vision pact.
The government pledges to maintain its cooperation with the Parliament to seek the ratification of a law on administrative decentralization. It also pledges to include the civil society in the decision-making process, continue to consolidate the women’s rights and role in the public and political life, and to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination.
The government deems the Taef Accord and the Constitution deriving from it as the basis for the maintenance of stability and civil peace, the main guarantor of national balance, and the sole regulator of relations between the constitutional institutions.
The government stresses upon its commitment to the dissociation policy which was approved by the previous Cabinet, in its entirety, during the session held on December 5, 2017.
The government will work on approving the general amnesty draft law.
The government will work on adopting and following up on the President’s initiative to nominate Lebanon to become a center for dialogue between civilizations, religions and races by establishing the Human Academy for Encounter and Dialogue.
The government will follow up on the implementation of the initiative that the President put forth at the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit and which consists in establishing an Arab reconstruction and development bank.
The government pledges to grant the deputy prime minister and all the ministers of state (for parliamentary affairs, administrative development, refugee affairs, foreign trade, presidency affairs, social and economic empowerment of women and youth, and information technology affairs) the needed capabilities for them to fulfill their duties and tasks.
Your Excellency, fellow colleagues
We wanted this policy statement to serve as a comprehensive depiction of the tremendous challenges and the high hopes pinned on us, the government, the Parliament and the living society, to address and confront them all.
There’s a chance for us to undertake a promising economic, social, service-based and investment revival. The chance is on its way to be turned into actions, with the will of both the Parliament and the government. Based on that, we ask for the Parliament’s confidence. May God grant us success!