News from Beirut August 28  1997 ...Search

Government Tough Decisions Today

-News reports today were almost sure that the government at its extra meeting under president Hrawi at Baabda palace will take tough and unpopular decisions.. The news in anticipating what decisions will be taken mentioned the following:

-The gasoline price will be increased up by L.L5,000 / 20 liter

-The public transportation will be enhanced

-The car mechanic charges would be increased

-$250mn will be allocated to the displaced and part of the amount which is now available will be immediately transferred

-Special fund will be formed to be in charge of paying the new foreign $1bn bond issue

-Formation of a special ministerial committee that will observe decrease of the public spending and increase of the state revenues in order to diminish the budget deficit

-To decide way of distributing the $1bn bond issue as it was proposed including $250mn for the displaced, $250mn for rural development, $50mn to buy more buses that will operate out of Beirut, $100mn for technical schools, $100 for public schools, $200mn for hospitals, and $50mn for south of Lebanon.

A special fund to pay the $1bn bond issue in 30 years time will be supplied by state revenues. The increase of gasoline price and regenerating collection of taxes and services bills will help bring down the budget deficit, as the prime minister hopes, and consequently decrease interest of Lebanese Lira. It is hoped too that the gasoline price increase will collect an annual L.L300bn, L.L300bn more from charges on illegal constructions, L.L150bn one time from the seaside real estates with additional annual L.L20bn as charges.

-The government, with such decisions, is trying to go out of the economical-social and financial deadlock, but the decisions could have been fair and just if it levied all classes and social slices, not only the poor and what remained of the middle class. The gasoline price might be part of the solution but not the solution, especially in absence of the proper tax system, lack of supervision, waste of public money and unproductive spending.

-Meanwhile, president Elias Hrawi said today's meeting will be extremely important, and the dialogue will be open in order to reach inevitable decisions. He said he will ask the ministers to vote on each decision. Hrawi was quoted saying the country is before hard options and it is not possible that these problems continue unresolved. He questioned the enormous huge number of private cars in the streets, at time the public buses is being used by only few passengers, and the gasoline price continue to be the cheapest ever in the region and perhaps in the entire world. Hrawi said the unproductive public spending should stop and the surplus state employees should see an end. He said there should be emphasis on the university education and the Lebanese university branches should not be the place to graduate jobless people. Hrawi did put emphasis on technical education and on development projects in rural areas, also on building dams and hospitals in Bekaa and Akkar.

-The opposition viewpoint is contradictory with the prementioned. It said why Hariri is autocratic when there is a success and democratic when it is failure. When it is success Hariri is a dictator monopolizing the success to his person, and when it is failure he distribute the failure on others and ask them to share him the responsibility, recalled that he was always the decision maker without any challenge. Why he discovered now that the country is facing an economical hardship and recession, while the budget is empty and the deficit is up, with commissions and brokerage becoming epidemic. Hariri is the prime minister of the government that imposed the highest record average of taxes in Lebanon's history, depriving the Lebanese of enjoying their living in their country, which become available only to millionaires. He is borrowing money knowing that others will pay after 30 years. During the war time, the wheat and gasoline subsidies were financing the militias war machine, but now the taxes and funds of the prime minister is financing his political allies. This was the opposition viewpoint.

-Prime minister Hariri, on his part, argued what is the alternatives of the tough unpopular decisions. He was quoted saying why his government is blamed for having foreign loans "what they can say about the US, France and Belgium which have billions debt". He said his government will vote on the decisions and after that all the bills will be referred to the parliament which is free to endorse it or not. He said that he knows some people will be harmed of the gasoline price increase, but the public transport will be enhanced, and after all the price in Lebanon is cheaper than all other countries.

-Interior minister Michel Murr anticipated that a public opposition reaction will be observed against the gasoline price rise, which is designed to resolve the $750mn cost of the displaced repatriation. Minister Suleiman Franjieh said he proposed increase of charges on real estates not gasoline price rise. Minister Beshara Merhej said the state did not give the citizen same as it took from him. The displaced minister Walid Jumblat said he is supporting the prime minister and authorized him to take the decision. He said it is inevitable to impose a certain charge to ensure enough allocation to the displaced, which is a common national case. Jumblat said the charge could be on gasoline, or some other unnecessary commodities or the seaside real estates.

Head of the government recognized GLC Ghanim Zoghbi said he called the labor confederation executive board to an emergency meeting Monday to take the relevant decision. He said the labor movement opposes any increase on gasoline or any other new taxes that damage the popular and labor groups and which threaten the social peace.

South Lebanon; New UNIFIL Commander

-Wreckage of the Italian helicopter than had crashed, for unknown reasons, in south Lebanon was transferred on board of an Italian military cargo plane via Beirut airport.

-Two SLA men were wounded in an attack carried by the Islamic resistance against the SLA outpost at Sojod. Israel warplanes intensively flew over Iqlim Toffah and Nabatieh and staged mock raids on west Bekaa. An Israeli unit combed areas close to the front-line in west Bekaa and opened fire and hand grenades against deserted houses and hideouts in the area.

-Commander of the Israeli backed militia SLA Antoine Lahd admitted he ordered the shelling of Sidon last week. He told an Israeli daily that his purpose was "not to kill civilians but to cause a destruction that force them to understand that many civilians were being killed in Jezzine". Lahd's remark contradicted with the Israeli earlier announcement saying a low rank officer in the SLA has ordered the shelling.

-Third of the Israeli knesset (parliament) members held an unofficial session at Kiryat shimone settlement to show solidarity with those living near the front-line along the border with Lebanon. The 38 MP including four ministers picked up the bus from Jerusalem to the settlement and met some 400 people-settlers after a three hour journey. The settlement was under a katyusha rocketing last week when the Islamic resistance fired rockets in retaliation to the shelling of Sidon. Out of the meeting venue some 30 Israeli woman were protesting Israel's maintain of the security zone in south Lebanon.

-Meantime, the UN secretary general appointed a Fiji general as commander of the UNIFIL force in south Lebanon, succeeding the Polish commander who took the command April 1995. The new Fiji commander is to assume his post as of first October. UN sources said this is a routine rotation among the countries participating in UNIFIL.


-News said the US is in favor of giving the ceasefire monitoring committee a role that goes beyond the ceasefire, thus trying to modify the April's understanding and mechanism of the panel.

-Lebanon's constitutional council started a new era after electing Amin Nassar as president, Mustafa Ouji as deputy president, and Kamel Raiydan as secretary general.

-Board chairman of the Lebanese lobby in the US the Task Force for Lebanon Thomas Nassif cabled Mrs. Albright to express the group's welcome to her initiative to decide lifting the US travel ban, and to urge her to continue her initiative and visit Lebanon. Nassif said he thanked Albright for taking the decision on behalf of the American-Lebanese community.

-A visit yesterday to east Sidon village of Berti by the Canadian ambassador in Lebanon evoked fear of the villagers of a Palestinian implantation scheme that will take place in the outskirts of their village. The ambassador of Canada, which is presiding the multi nation peace talks committee on refugees, was only checking a humanitarian project financed by his country that aimed to help 16 widow to earn living from raising honey bees. Local contacts clarified the case and the purpose of the visit. The ambassador later visited Tyre and met UNIFIL officials also visited Qana.

-Lebanese army statement said Mohammed Nawaf Mikdad was killed during an army dragnet that was chasing wanted people in Baalbek. The statement said the man was running away from the army patrol despite warning. The dragnet was launched to search for people negotiating return of stolen cars for high amounts of money. The army dragnet took place at Baalbek hills of Nabha, Makneh, Knaysseh and Rabha. People of Makneh cut the main road with tires for two hours in protest. Hizbullah, AMAL, and Tufeili demanded an investigation while Makneh and the Mikdad clan blamed the interior minister.

-The proposed civil aviation general board is to run all the administrative units of various administrations at the airport. The draft bill to form the board will be discussed at today's meeting of the cabinet.

-Lebanon's foreign minister Fares Boueiz and ESCWA executive secretary Hazem Biblawi signed the agreement on ESCWA head office in Beirut. The ESCWA official said he can say now that his agency has in legal term an agreement with Lebanon that allow it to move finally to Beirut.


-AUB alumni is preparing for the international tennis beginners tournament. The international tennis union is administering the tournament and will issue classification points.

-Syrian Olympiad champion Ghada Shoaa hopes to return to the Olympic games after recovering her critical backbone hit. She is now hospitalized in Germany and wish to join the Austrian games in 1998.

-Ansar supporters are massing up to rally their team during its match with the Kuwaiti Arabi at Bourj Hammoud in the Asian Cup Championship on 31st August. Nijmeh will play with the Qatari Ittihad on 7th September.

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