Time to Show Up for Work

Monday, September 6, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

As PM-designate Najib Miqati continues to work on forming a governing team who will satisfy both domestic critics and international concerns for an empowered reformist body, two thoughts come to mind:

Will the line-up have the necessary political clout to move the government in the needed direction? And will the required consensus bring about initial steps at healing the country?

The Lebanese people have stated their concerns many times: less corruption, a responsive banking sector, efficient government, adequate social services, and an inclusive society.

The international community has also been unambiguous: reform the economy and the public sector, reduce waste and mismanagement, maintain security through national bodies, i.e. the LAF and ISF, and constrain entities that contribute to instability such as Hezbollah and terrorist groups.

With so much at stake, there are many good wishes for Miqati’s success, if the new cabinet is committed to implement change in the right directions. Perhaps two banners might be helpful in focusing the government’s efforts. I would suggest the first being “Time to Show up for Work,” indicating the resolve of the new government to move towards higher standards of accountability in its performance, beginning with electricity, telecommunications, and port reforms that will attract foreign investment into the country and support tourism.

Ensuring that the municipal and parliamentary elections take place as scheduled will be a key marker of their commitment. Dealing with the inadequacies of the subsidy regime, by its elimination and replacement with a World Bank monitored cash card system, will pave the way to restore liquidity to the economy and create conditions for a currency board or other facility to reinvigorate the value of the Lebanese lira. None of these are simple, but the legislative and policy guidelines are already in place or accessible to move quickly if there is a will and a commitment to show up for work.

Similarly, “Build Bridges, Not Walls,” should also be a mission statement of the new government, overcoming sectarian obstacles to access to better schools, health facilities, jobs, and so many other facets of life in Lebanon. It could also literally mean infrastructure projects that create jobs for Lebanese, improve the quality of life through access to clean water and efficient public transportation, and ease congestion and overuse of precious land and water resources.

On the regional level, it would encompass relations with its two big neighbors, Syria and Israel, which also have a need for stability and security. While there are no perfect formulas, it is clear that restarting negotiations on the maritime boundary and more access for the UNIFIL to currently closed areas in the south would help build bilateral confidence. If Syria’s leadership can be swayed to support a stable and prosperous Lebanon which will, in turn, help stabilize Syria’s economy, then cooperation on cracking down on smuggling and some accommodation of refugee needs may be possible. It’s not as unthinkable now that the Syrian regime feels more secure.

While these slogans may not sound terribly profound to those suffering inside Lebanon, nor to partisans on the outside, they pinpoint two undeniable needs: government accountability and an inclusive society. If Lebanon is to survive as a sovereign, independent, and effective state, nation-building must be a priority. The best part is that the Lebanese are capable of doing it themselves with the urging and support of its friends.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.