Lebanese PM wants to spare nation from ‘economic collapse’

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says the country must pass austerity budget. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Updated 07 May 2019

Lebanese PM wants to spare nation from ‘economic collapse’

  • Saad Hariri says reforms are needed in the country before it is too late

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s prime minister said he wants to spare the country from economic collapse, insisting that reforms and austerity measures are needed to resolve the country’s financial turmoil.

Banks are barely functioning in Lebanon, and the country’s stock exchange remains closed.

Central bank workers suspended a strike on Tuesday, but left open the possibility of resuming the walkout on Friday if the government pressed ahead with draft budget proposals that would cut their pay, Reuters reported.

The threat of a central bank strike has had a knock-on effect in the financial sector.

“All of our operations are linked to the Banque du Liban,” Tanal Al-Sabah, from the board of directors of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, told Arab News. “All the normal demand for the dollar and the lira exceeds the daily supply of the branches. If the Banque du Liban does not provide us with liquidity, we won’t be able to meet customers’ requests.”

Banks have set limits on ATM withdrawals over dollar liquidity fears.

The strike, protests and other walkouts are some of the challenges confronting Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s administration as it contends with an austerity budget.

Last week, Hariri told the 27th Arab Economic Forum that Lebanon was committed to carrying out the required economic reforms “despite the existing difficulties.”

Following a meeting Monday night with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hariri said the country was far from bankruptcy but warned that reforms were needed before it was too late.

“We are still far from bankruptcy, but we should not wait to get to the point where the countries that suffered from bankruptcy got to without carrying out some reform, otherwise we will be lying to the citizens,” he said. “No one wants to touch the rights of military personnel and public servants, and we are studying all means to avoid this, while at the same time reducing the deficit to 8 or 9 percent.”

Hariri expressed his surprise at the strikes, which he described as preemptive. “Is what we are doing terrorism that requires preemptive measures? What we are doing is a proactive action to spare the country economic collapse,” he said.  “That is the right path we should have taken, but unfortunately we did not because of political differences. We have a golden opportunity to reach an understanding with the president, the speaker of Parliament and the parties represented in the Council of Ministers to reach a reform budget for the benefit of all Lebanese.”

The goal was to promote growth because it was unacceptable to maintain a growth rate of 1 percent for the past seven years, he added.

He said the law banned state employees from demonstrating or striking, and the law should be respected, especially since the reason for the demonstrations were not known.

“The main problem is that the debt is close to $90 billion, with about $40 billion of this because of electricity. How much interest is owed on these debts,” he said. “This is our collective responsibility and not the responsibility of one particular political team. We recognize the existence of an economic crisis.”

He said nobody should fear change, and encouraged people to support the reforms.

But economic expert Essam Al-Jardi said that the draft 2019 budget revealed a failed state and a corrupt political system.

“The scene is terrible,” he told Arab News. “There is disagreement over all aspects of the reduction of expenditures, except for the reduction of salaries and allowances for public sector employees. They thought this cut was easy and available. The retaliation came from retired military personnel, followed by employees in various sectors, which has a direct impact on public services. As for consensual deals, public rents, state property ... there was no single indication that the government would follow a new course that conforms to laws and tender rules. As for revenues, nothing has been announced about tax evasion, especially fees and smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, which is the size of the budget deficit. The Cabinet did not deal with those hot issues.”

Another economist, Ghazi Wazni, said the government would expedite the budget debate and Parliament would decide its fate.

“What is happening now is unclear,” he told Arab News. “There are some justified protest movements, but some others have nothing to do with the budget. The best step to be taken by the government is to accelerate the debate, and there are items pending until the end of the week, including the measure on the contribution of banks in the budget through raising taxes on interest.”

He said there were also budget items on military pensions and public sector salaries that needed to be considered.

Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

Updated 23 August 2019

Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

  • The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide

CAIRO: Egypt is seeking Japan’s help to improve its education system, which has fallen to 130th place in international rankings.

The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide, and Cairo is hoping to apply key aspects of Japan’s approach to the Egyptian curriculum.

Education has played a major role in transforming Japan from a feudal state receiving aid following World War II to a modern economic powerhouse. 

During a visit to Japan in 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed political and economic development with Japanese officials, and was also briefed on the Japanese education system.

The Egyptian leader visited Japanese schools and called on Japan to help Egypt introduce a similar system in its schools.  

As part of Egyptian-Japanese cooperation, Japan’s embassy established cultural cooperation as well as technical and professional education links between the two countries. Collaboration has been strengthened from kindergarten to post-university, with Japanese experts contributing in various education fields.

Japanese experts have held seminars in schools across the country, focusing on basic education. 

During one seminar, Japan highlighted the importance of enhancing education by playing games during kindergarten and primary school, encouraging children’s ability and desire to explore.  

Education expert Ola El-Hazeq told Arab News that the Japanese system focuses on developing students’ sense of collective worth and responsibility toward society. This starts with their surrounding environment by taking care of school buildings, educational equipment and school furniture, for example.

“Japanese schools are known for being clean,” El-Hazeq said. “The first thing that surprises a school visitor is finding sneakers placed neatly in a locker or on wooden shelves at the school entrance. Each sneaker has its owner’s name on it. This is a habit picked up at most primary and intermediate schools as well as in many high schools.”

Japanese students also clean their classrooms, collect leaves that have fallen in the playground and take out the garbage. In many cases, teachers join students to clean up schools and also public gardens and beaches during the summer holidays.

El-Hazeq added that neither the teachers nor the students find it beneath their dignity to carry out such chores.

The academic year in Japan continues for almost 11 months, different from most other countries, with the Japanese academic year starting on April 1 and ending on March 31 the following year.

Japan’s school days and hours are relatively longer in comparison with other countries. Usually the school day is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teachers normally work until 5 p.m. but sometimes up to 7 p.m. Holidays are shorter than in other countries. Spring and winter holidays are no longer than 10 days, and the summer holiday ranges from 40 to 45 days.