Lebanon committed to reforms: PM

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri addresses a session of the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 03 May 2019
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Lebanon committed to reforms: PM

  • Summit was attended by heads of government, ministers and bankers from Arab and foreign countries

BEIRUT: Lebanon is committed to “carrying out the required economic reforms despite the existing difficulties,” Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in his opening address at the 27th Arab Economic Forum in Beirut.

The task is “not easy, especially if we want to fight corruption and waste,” he added. His speech came after Lebanon’s labor union called a strike to protest austerity measures.

“Waste is a huge calamity in Arab countries, and the real waste lies in the time we’re wasting every day without developing our laws. When our energy bill reaches $40 billion, this too is waste,” said Hariri, who spoke of “optimistic reform plans.”

He added: “These reforms are in the interest of Lebanese citizens and the youth who can’t find jobs.” He promised to rebuild the country as his father did when he was prime minister.

There is a need to “tighten the belt because our financial situation is worn out, so either we all sink or we put an end to the economic decline for everyone’s sake,” Hariri said at a Cabinet session this week.

“Any action in this sense isn’t against any Lebanese group, but aims to protect all the people of Lebanon.”

Addressing the Arab Economic Forum, he said: “Today, we have a choice to make in Lebanon: Do we want to reach a point of economic collapse, or do we want to look at a country like Egypt and say this is the experience we must implement? This is the change we must make.”

He added: “There are changes and openness (in the Arab Gulf states), which we also see in Egypt. We hope this change is contagious and expands to the entire Arab world so that we all work together as one team.”

At the forum, Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli outlined his country’s efforts in recent years to implement economic reforms in order to achieve comprehensive and sustainable economic, social and environmental growth.

“Egypt has begun to reap the fruits and positive results of the reforms, the most important of which was achieving an annual economic growth rate of 5.3 percent during the fiscal year 2017/2018, the highest in 10 years,” he said.

“The balance of payments has generated a surplus of about $12.8 billion, and the extent of foreign exchange reserves held rose from $14.9 billion in June 2014 to $44 billion in February 2019, covering about eight months of commodity imports after it used to cover three months only.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit spoke of the region’s need for about 50 million more jobs by the middle of the century.

“We need to create jobs that are suitable for the education and expertise of the youth,” he said. “Unemployment rates are dramatically rising among the educated youth, and we can’t remain indifferent toward this phenomenon.”

Mohamed Abdo Saidou, president of the Federation of Arab Chambers of Commerce, said: “Strengthening reliance on the digital economy would contribute more than $3 trillion to the growth of Arab GDP (gross domestic product).”

He urged Arab governments to strengthen the private sector’s role so that it acts as the driver and largest employer of Arab talent. He also called for inter-Arab alliances to provide parallel development.

Joseph Torbey, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon and the World Union of Arab Bankers, said: “In light of current and forthcoming developments, the pressures on Arab banks and the challenges facing them, including the continuing slowdown in deposit growth and the decline in asset quality, are expected to continue.”

He called for “formulating economic development and reform plans in our region through diversifying sources of economic growth, entering into a new generation of reforms, promoting entrepreneurship, strengthening sources for financing SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and start-ups, and developing the knowledge economy as a key growth engine.”

Torbey said: “The banking sector in Lebanon is a key player in Lebanon’s economic life, and has helped maintain monetary stability over the past quarter-century, curbed inflation, and protected the purchasing power of salaries, wages and low-income groups. Therefore, the banking system and its deposits shouldn’t be subject to seasonal tax on every occasion.”


‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface

Updated 48 min 40 sec ago

‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface

  • Time magazine posted the photo
  • Trudeausaid he should have known better

TORONTO: Canadian leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign was hit Wednesday by the publication of a yearbook photo showing him in brownface makeup at a 2001 costume party. The prime minister apologized and said “it was a dumb thing to do.”
Time magazine posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. It depicts the then 29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.
Trudeau, who launched his reelection campaign exactly one week ago, said he should have known better.
“I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself,” Trudeau told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.
The Canadian prime minister is but the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their younger days. Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s. Since then, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has publicly apologized for donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None has resigned.
The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from “Aladdin.” The prime minister said it was not the first time he has painted his face; once, he said, he performed a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” during a talent show.
“I should have known better then but I didn’t, and I am deeply sorry for it,” Trudeau said. “I’m going to ask Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do.”
He said he has always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is “sometimes appropriate.”
“These are the situations I regret deeply,” Trudeau added.
The prime minister, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he didn’t consider it racist at the time but said society knows better now.
The photo’s publication could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who polls say is facing a serious challenge from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Trudeau has been admired by liberals around the world for his progressive policies in the Trump era, with Canada accepting more refugees than the United States. His Liberal government has also strongly advocated free trade and legalized cannabis nationwide.
But the 47-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was already vulnerable following one of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history, which arose when Trudeau’s former attorney general said he improperly pressured her to halt the criminal prosecution of a company in Quebec. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the scandal rocked the government and led to multiple resignations earlier this year, causing a drop in the leader’s poll ratings.
Following the release of the brownface photo, Trudeau said he would talk to his kids in the morning about taking responsibility.
His quick apology did not stem the criticism from political opponents, who took the prime minister to task for what they said was troubling behavior.
“It is insulting. Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live, for what their lived experiences are. I think he has to answer for it,” said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and the first visible minority to lead a national party.
Scheer, the opposition Conservative leader, said brownface was racist in 2001 and is racist in 2019.
“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” Scheer said.
Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was “gobsmacked” at the development and wondered how it would land in Parliament.
“We’ll just have to see how the party reacts,” he said. “I’m very curious to know how Liberal members of Parliament that are black will react.”
How the scandal will affect Trudeau’s campaign remains in question. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he didn’t think the photo’s release would cause people to vote differently. Wiseman said race and blackface play a much bigger role in US politics than in Canada.
“I don’t think this will swing the vote, although the story will get a lot of media play for a couple of days,” Wiseman said. “The Liberals may very well lose the election — they almost certainly will not do as well as in 2015 — but this is not the type of scandal that will drive voters to the Conservatives.”