Lebanon’s outgoing PM backs businessman to replace him

Saad Hariri said he wants to see prominent contractor Samir Khatib become Lebanon’s next prime minister. (Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2019

Lebanon’s outgoing PM backs businessman to replace him

  • Hariri said he backs Samir Khatib to become the country’s next prime minister
  • Hariri withdrew his candidacy for the premiership, hoping to clear the way for a solution to the political impasse

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday he supports the nomination of a prominent contractor to become the country’s next premier, a move that will likely pave the way for the formation of a new Cabinet amid a severe economic and financial crisis.
Hariri last week withdrew his candidacy for the premiership, saying he hoped to clear the way for a solution to the political impasse amid nearly eight weeks of anti-government protests.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Hariri said he backs Samir Khatib to become the country’s next prime minister adding that “there are still some details and God willing something good” will happen. Hariri added that “everyone is trying to pass through this difficult period.”
Khatib heads one of Lebanon’s largest engineering and contracting companies and did not hold any political roles in the past.
Over the past weeks, politicians failed to agree on the shape and form of a new government. Hariri had insisted on heading a government of technocrats, while his opponents, including the militant group Hezbollah, want a Cabinet made up of both experts and politicians.
Asked if he is going to take part in the new Cabinet, Hariri said: “I will not nominate political personalities but experts.”
It was not clear how the protesters who have been demonstrating against widespread corruption and mismanagement in the country would respond to the possible formation of the government. The frustrated protesters have resorted to road closures and other tactics to pressure politicians into responding to their demands for a new government.
They have insisted that a new Cabinet be made up of independent figures that have nothing to do with the ruling elite that have been running the country since the 1975-90 civil war ended.
President Michel Aoun now is expected to call for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name the new prime minister. But since Hariri, the most powerful Sunni leader in the country said he will back Khatib, the contractor is widely expected to get the post.
According to Lebanon’s power sharing system implemented since independence from France in 1943, the president has to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister should be a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Cabinet and parliament seats are equally split between Christians and Muslims.
Earlier in the day, outgoing Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil hinted that he will not be part of the new government telling reporters that “the success of the Cabinet is more important than our presence in it.”
The apparent breakthrough comes as Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades with one of the highest debt ratios in the world, high unemployment and an expected contraction in the economy in 2020. Local banks have imposed capital control measures unseen before in the country known for its free market economy.
The possible breakthrough came a day after protesters hurled stones at soldiers while opening a highway south of Beirut, injuring several troops. The Lebanese army said in a statement on Tuesday that one of the protesters in the town of Naameh fired bullets from a pistol the night before adding that the shooting made the troops fire in the air to disperse the protesters.


First arrests in Iraq PM’s anti-corruption drive

Updated 18 September 2020

First arrests in Iraq PM’s anti-corruption drive

  • The arrests represent a rare instance in which current officials — usually deemed too well-connected to touch in Iraq’s graft-ridden system — are subject to judicial procedures
  • Iraq’s court system is known to be profoundly corrupt, with judges paid off to ignore evidence or make certain verdicts

BAGHDAD: Two Iraqi officials and a businessman have been arrested as part of a new anti-corruption drive spearheaded by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi, government sources said Friday.
The arrests represent a rare instance in which current officials — usually deemed too well-connected to touch in Iraq’s graft-ridden system — are subject to judicial procedures.
Last month, Kadhemi formed a new committee to fight “major corruption files,” which made its first arrests this week, according to two Iraqi officials with knowledge of the committee’s work.
The head of Iraq’s Retirement Fund, Ahmad Al-Saedi, and the chairman of Baghdad’s Investment Commission, Shaker Al-Zameli, were detained on Wednesday.
Bahaa Abdulhussein, the head of electronic payment company Qi Card, was arrested upon arrival at Baghdad Airport on Thursday, the sources confirmed.
The officials declined to reveal any further details, including the charges against the men, where they were being held or what the judicial process would be.
“The committee is looking at portfolios that have been suspicious for a while, then its judicial commission issues arrest warrants,” one official told AFP.
Iraq’s court system is known to be profoundly corrupt, with judges paid off to ignore evidence or make certain verdicts.
Asked whether the courts could be trusted to see the process through, the official said the committee’s judges were building “solid” cases.
Both officials said the campaign was not targeted against any particular individuals, parties or business sectors.
“There is no target list — but you can expect more names to come,” the second official said.
Iraq is ranked one of the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International.
Some $450 billion in public funds have vanished into the pockets of shady politicians and businessmen since the 2003 US-led invasion, a study by parliament found.
Every premier since the invasion has launched their own anti-corruption initiative, with varying degrees of success.
Kadhemi has made new appointments at the Central Bank of Iraq, the Integrity Commission and the Investment Commission in a bid to stem government graft.