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

  • 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.


Australia: British-Australian woman in Iran prison ‘is well’

Updated 31 min 35 sec ago

Australia: British-Australian woman in Iran prison ‘is well’

  • Australia sought urgent consular access and its ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, visited Moore-Gilbert in Qarchak Prison on Sunday
  • Moore-Gilbert’s family said they were reassured by the ambassador’s prison visit

CANBERRA, Australia: An Australian ambassador has visited a British-Australian academic convicted of espionage before being moved recently to a notorious Iranian prison and found that she “is well,” Australia’s government said Tuesday.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was sent to Tehran’s Evin Prison in September 2018 and sentenced to 10 years.
Concerns for her well-being escalated with news last week that she had been moved to Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran.
Australia sought urgent consular access and its ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, visited Moore-Gilbert in Qarchak Prison on Sunday, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or DFAT, said in a statement.
“Dr. Moore-Gilbert is well and has access to food, medical facilities and books,” the statement said. “We will continue to seek regular consular access to Dr. Moore-Gilbert.”
Moore-Gilbert’s family said they were reassured by the ambassador’s prison visit.
“We remain committed to getting our Kylie home as soon as possible and this is our top and only priority,” a family statement said.
“We continue to believe that Kylie’s best chance at release is through diplomatic avenues and are in close contact with DFAT and the Australian government on the best ways to achieve this,” the statement added.
In 2018, Moore-Gilbert was arrested at Tehran airport while trying to leave Iran after attending an academic conference.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran, a US-based organization, said last week that Moore-Gilbert was being held with violent criminals under harsh conditions.
Reza Khandan, husband of human rights lawyer and Evin Prison inmate Nasrin Sotoudeh, posted on social media last week that Moore-Gilbert had been transferred “as a form of punishment.”
Australia describes Moore-Gilbert’s case as one of its highest priorities.
Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes during her time in custody and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her during almost two years in custody.
She wrote to Australia’s prime minister last year that she has been “subjected to grievous violations of my legal and human rights, including psychological torture and spending prolonged periods of time in solitary confinement.”