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.


18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

A heavily damaged building following Russian airstrikes and shelling on the town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday. Three members of the same family were killed in the strike. (AFP)
Updated 04 August 2020

18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

  • Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack

BEIRUT/JERUSALEM: Clashes between opposition groups and pro-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria on Monday thwarted regime’s advance and left 12 pro-regime men dead, a Britain-based war monitoring group said.
Another 17 pro-regime fighters were wounded while on the opposition-led side six fighters died, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion, said the war monitor.
But the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, headed by ex-leaders of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and their allies reportedly thwarted the advance.
Four HTS and two other opposition fighters were killed in the clashes in a rural area of Latakia province, the monitor said.
The HTS-led alliance also controls large areas of Idlib province and slivers of territory in neighboring Aleppo and Hama.
The region they hold is home to some 3 million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.
Syria’s 9-year-old war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population.
The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.
A Russian-backed regime offensive between December and March displaced nearly a million people in the region.
A Moscow-backed cease-fire agreement in March has reduced violence in the area, but shelling and airstrikes by the regime and its backers continue.
Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack.

Golan Heights Activity
The Israeli military said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria early on Monday staged by four suspected militants it accused of trying to plant explosives.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Israeli troops earlier spotted “irregular” activity in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on the suspected militants, some of whom were armed, after observing them placing the explosives on the ground, Conricus said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.

• The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.

There was no official confirmation that the four suspected attackers were killed but a grainy video released by the army shows four figures walking away from barbed wire marking the frontier. The four then disappear in a large explosion that engulfs the area.
The Israeli military has not said if the four are suspected of ties to Iran or Hezbollah, two Syrian allies. However, Conricus said Israel held the Syrian regime responsible for the incident.
Addressing Likud party lawmakers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel “thwarted an attempted sabotage on the Syrian front” and would continue to “harm all those who try to harm us and all those who harm us.”
The incident comes amid heightened tension on Israel’s northern frontier following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria. Following the airstrike, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was hit by explosives fired from Syria and Israel responded by attacking Syrian military positions and beefing up its forces in the area.
Israel has been bracing for further retaliation and last week it said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah militants, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.