Lebanon’s ‘scandalous’ appointments spark criticism

Special Lebanon’s ‘scandalous’ appointments spark criticism
Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab in a bind for making “scandalous” appointments to key administrative and financial roles. (Reuters file photo)
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Updated 12 June 2020

Lebanon’s ‘scandalous’ appointments spark criticism

Lebanon’s ‘scandalous’ appointments spark criticism
  • Physical therapist named director-general of the Ministry of Economy
  • Political developments could affect bailout negotiations with IMF, says top university academic

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government has been criticized for making “scandalous” appointments to key administrative and financial roles.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab took office in January and pledged that his government would be made up of independent technocrats and specialists who could deal with the country’s crippling and economic financial crisis.

But an announcement on Wednesday, revealing who was being appointed to senior roles, has triggered accusations that Diab has backtracked on that pledge. 

The positions up for grabs were deputy governor of the Lebanese Central Bank, the government representative at the Central Bank, the Capital Markets Authority and the Special Investigation Commission, the president of the Civil Service Council, the director-general of the Ministry of Economy, and the director-general for investment at the Ministry of Energy and Water.

“The government of Hassan Diab, since assuming power, was a quota government that culminated its practices with appointments that could be considered as scandalous,” Dr. Jad Chaaban, associate professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, told Arab News. “It said that it wanted to abide by the criteria of qualifications in choosing candidates to vacant positions, but it exhibited a catastrophic failure in yesterday’s appointments. The scandals included appointing a former private bank employee as government representative at the Central Bank. How could she monitor the banks’ performance if she is affiliated with the banking sector?”

Dr. Nasser Yassin, professor of development affairs at AUB, said that Diab’s government had returned to the practices of previous decades in Lebanon. “There is no other interpretation,” he told Arab News. “For how could you justify the appointment of a physical therapist as director-general of the Ministry of Economy?”

Dr. Nadim Al-Mulla, economic adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said that Diab’s declarations had collapsed. “I advise him to admit that he is part of the ruling political class aiming for his share in power,” he told Arab News. “And it seems that he subjected himself to the will of the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil, who considered that he achieved victory through these appointments.”

Chaaban warned that donor countries were monitoring government performance and that political developments could affect bailout negotiations with the IMF. AUB graduates who work at the IMF have contacted their former professors, telling them that the atmosphere is not positive regarding negotiations after more than 11 sessions between the two sides.

“The IMF impression is that Lebanon does not take the negotiations seriously and it does not intend to put its reform plan into effect,” he added. “They said they wanted to install capital control but they backed down. Everything that gets proposed depends on particular political and economic interests at the expense of the state’s interests. For example it is forbidden to impose taxes on the money of big depositors. It seems that the negotiations are controlled by politicians.”

Adding to the government’s woes are recommendations from the US Republican Study Committee to impose maximum sanctions on Iran and its allies in the region, and to issue legislation that sanctions Hezbollah supporters including the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri, the president of the Free Patriotic Movement Bassil, Hezbollah ministers in the government, and those presenting themselves as independents who support Hezbollah. The recommendations also called for a halt on US aid to the Lebanese army.