At last, some order in Lebanon’s finances


At last, some order in Lebanon’s finances

Political settlement in Lebanon has been brought back to life. This is because the Lebanese parliament has passed its first budget since 2005, the year former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated. Since then, security and political crises had prevented a vote on the budget. This achievement, and the accompanying preparations for the adoption of the 2018 budget, have closed the door, even if only temporarily, in the face of troubles that Lebanon is trying to withstand, but in light of regional changes no one can predict how long this revival will last.
The main issue in passing the budget was to decide on controversial financial and administrative issues and isolate them from the complex internal and foreign political matters. It is obvious here that Lebanon has not yet reached the solutions stage; however, it is still carrying out its policy that aims to avoid conflicts and allow time to pass with minimal losses.
What happened is a step forward to reforming the fragile Lebanese economy and preventing the rise of public debt. Passing the first public budget since 2005 was not possible without the political settlement, which is approaching its second year. This settlement is built on the impossible partnership between Lebanese adversaries, specifically between Hezbollah and its allies on the one hand, and the Future Movement and its allies on the other. 
Political poles in Lebanon are acting on the basis that they realize the need to keep the country under control during the next stage, especially in light of the US-Iranian conflict – bearing in mind the Israel factor of course. 
It is true that the adoption of the 2017 budget (a year that is now almost behind us) is of no importance, but it is symbolic for international organizations, credit rating agencies, international financial institutions and, above all, Washington and the global financial system that has put Lebanon under so much pressure due to the sanctions on Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

An uneasy truce has produced the first budget in 12 years, but a political settlement that means different things to different people is not a solid base for the future.

Diana Moukalled

Those who favor the budget’s adoption believe that it is establishing a financial system after 12 years of illegal spending. The main problem with the budget seems to be that the fiscal deficit is huge, more than $5 million a year. This is partly the result of the salary scale law and an electricity plan that is one of the country’s largest expenditures. However, the main reason is corruption, especially through the inability to control borders, airports and seaports. All of them are run by a parallel security authority using security as an excuse, when, in fact, this security authority is covering large smuggling and trafficking deals.
Although the political settlement is acting as a regulator that prevents any party from increasing the tension, all attention in the post-budget phase will be on trying to find a way to reconcile Hezbollah’s understanding of the political settlement with that of its opponents. Hezbollah’s view of the political settlement is that it is part of its strategic agenda, which serves Iran. Its opponents believe the settlement is a holding position, awaiting the tools necessary for a conflict with Hezbollah and its regional allies.
Meanwhile, we must see if we can avoid the normalization of relations with Damascus generating more explosive headlines, as happened recently. We must also see how all parties will maintain the settlement amid indications that the US impulse is to act internationally against Iran over the nuclear deal and its influence in the region.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. Twitter: @dianamoukalled
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