Hariri Eyes 'Very Positive' Donor Response to Reforms
Prime Minister Saad Hariri started meeting foreign envoys Tuesday, his adviser said, adding that he expected a very positive response to the cabinet's adoption of major economic reforms.
Senior adviser Nadim Munla said Hariri had begun a series of meetings with key ambassadors in Beirut, six days into a mass anti-government protest movement, which has drawn muted reactions from Lebanon's top foreign allies.
"We believe, after the announcement of the decisions of the cabinet yesterday, that we're going to get very positive reactions from them," Munla told reporters.
"This has been the main demand by most of the members of the international community," he added.
On Monday, Hariri announced that his fractious cabinet had agreed on wide-ranging economic measures, including a 2020 budget and a number of key reforms.
Elements of the reforms had been blocked by some of Hariri's governing partners, but Munla said pressure from the unprecedented protests had helped push them through.
The reform package includes a privatization program and debt reduction drive that aim to reassure donors and allow for the disbursement of a huge aid package approved in Paris last year.
Munla also said he hoped the package announced Monday would "lead to some positive reactions on the market."
The reforms also included a series of measures designed to fight rampant corruption, one of the main grievances of the hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating since last week.
But the protesters dismissed the new measures as insufficient and a desperate move by the political class to save their jobs.
Munla said a new anti-graft law was being drafted and that suggestions made by civil society would be included in the bill.
"The pressure that has been manifested over the last days and possibly weeks, personally, I believe it's irreversible and it's going to lead to very concrete laws," he said.
President Michel Aoun has said that he was in favor of lifting banking secrecy on the accounts of ministers.
"I think they (ministers) are going to respond, what I have seen, is that there is a movement in that direction," Munla said.
He added that a cabinet reshuffle was not ruled out, saying, "I think this will be determined in the coming few days. It is one of the options."
Munla said restoring the people's confidence in their government "is not going to be an easy job. It's going to be an uphill battle."
He added that international companies like Siemens, General Electric or Mitsubishi will have a two-month window to make bids for constructing new power stations, with the winning bid announced two months later.
He said the plants -- which will take years to build -- should increase Lebanon's power production by 1,000 megawatts by mid-2020. Lebanon currently produces about 2,000 megawatts, while its peak demand is nearly 3,500 megawatts. Residents rely on private generators to cover the deficit.
From 2007 until 2010, Lebanon's economy grew at an average of 9% annually. But it hit a major downturn in 2011, when a political crisis brought down the government and the uprising in neighboring Syria stoked unrest among Lebanese factions.
Since then, growth has averaged a mere 1.5%, according to government estimates. Munla said there will be no economic growth in 2020.
Nearly three decades after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon still experiences frequent cutoffs of water and electricity. With public transport networks virtually non-existent, its aging roads are clogged with traffic. Chronic problems with waste management have sparked mass protests in recent years.