Perhaps more important than the reactions to knocking out Prime Minister Hariri's development plan on Wednesday, was the question raised in Beirut today on whether there were political and economic dimensions for that step, and whether the step relates to something beyond the impending internal crisis.
Naturally, the attempts to explain the downfall did not find immediate answers. Especially, since the one targeted by the political message, Prime Minister Hariri, reiterated before his visitors that he couldn't find an explanation to what took place at the Cabinet last Wednesday, except that "it was political talk", and not an economic discussion of the proposed plan.
Yet that did not put aside the questions raised about the political fate of Hariri himself, after knocking a project behind which he placed all his weight, but failed in having it approved.
What accentuated the crisis was in fact the sudden visit by Prime Minister Hariri to Damascus after a morning meeting with President Hrawi, who, hours after the meeting, reaffirmed his approval of the plan, affirming that the "subject was not closed", and that "matters are still open to discussions".
With this stance, which drew the features of a stable alliance between President Hrawi and Prime Minister Hariri over the present crisis despite the latter's affirmation on Wednesday that extending the president's term in office is not possible, the full image of the crises came out to light when House Speaker Nabih Berri "congratulated" the Cabinet on knocking down the plan, and saving "the government and the prime minister".
One immediate adverse effect, however, was the stance by the Minister of the Displaced Walid Jumblat who was quick to announce that "as of next week, the work of the Ministry of the Displaced will be stopped until funds are made available".
Prime Minister Hariri, in an attempt to clarify the picture following a visit to Damascus and a meeting with the Syrian Vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam, reiterated the affirmation that "through discussions and political dialogue alone, things can be resolved".
Hariri, following a second visit to President Hrawi yesterday, seemed reassured the plan "will sooner or later be approved, and in a way consistent with what will be agreed upon". He also seemed confident that "things did not reach a dead end".
Yet, avoiding the use of challenging terms, he noted that "there possibly is no way but to confront urgent matters, which the plan aimed at resolving. Leading among these, he added, are the "return of the war displaced citizens, hospitalization and the provision of funds to replace amounts spent on account of some budgets, especially the one relating to the Council of the South".
According to government sources, Hariri also seemed confident that the dialogue will bring results, and that "what have been politically rejected could be politically accepted". Adding that the matter was not new to Lebanese politics, the sources said approving the plan would have been regarded as a victory for Prime Minister Hariri, which was something a group of political forces did not want under the circumstances.
On the other hand, the reactions to knocking out Hariri's plan focused on the adverse effects that could have resulted in case the plan was approved. Of these reactions was one by House Speaker Nabih Berri who said he was "sure" people would have hit the streets, and wondered whether "another May 6 was wanted"- a reference to the May 6, 1992 demonstrations that brought the downfall of Omar Karami's government.
Former Prime Minister Selim Hoss, in a press conference yesterday, described Hariri's plan as "a declaration of failure of the policy so far adopted by the government ". A substitute to the plan, he emphasized, "is implementing what the government has promised in the past, but did not achieve, and maintaining the budget deficit within the limits specified in the general budget".
He said, "borrowing such a sizeable amount is like running away head front, at a time when the country is overwhelmed by growing worries about the public debt".
"Net public debt as at August 31, 1997, was about $12.66bn", Hoss said. "This amount exceeds by far the estimated gross national product, and represents an unhealthy and a very worrying phenomena, except for those who do not want to learn from the experience of other heavily debited countries".
Speaking about the proposed plan, he said, "where is the plan they want to finance from the $1bn loan. They say, for instance, they want $200m to finance the return of the displaced. Every body knows the government has so far spent $500m for this return, in addition to the $300m paid by 'Solidere'. Despite that, not more than 20 percent of the displaced has returned".
As to the fresh borrowing project, Hoss said, "we cannot but ask what happened to the promises made at the 'Friends of Lebanon Conference' in Washington where about $3bn were pledged in the form of loans, soft loans and grants to Lebanon? Where are these amounts? And why the need for a new $1bn if these amounts were really available?"
The alternative, Hoss concluded, is just "the opposite of what the government's has been doing. The alternative is in austerity, rational expenditures, elimination of squandering, avoiding consensual contracting, and setting out a comprehensive and an equilibrated development plan tailor made to Lebanon's ability to absorb public debts and expenditures".
House speaker Nabih Berri, in a press conference yesterday, congratulated the Cabinet for vetoing Prime Minister Hariri's plan, and emphasized that if the plan was approved, people would have hit the streets in protest. He said the Cabinet has in fact rescued the government, the Prime Minister, and its decision was in the interest of Lebanon and the regime.
Wondering whether the intention was to instigate incidents similar to the May 6, 1992, demonstrations that ousted the government of Omar Karami, Berri reiterated his stance with regard to the $800n plan, and said that the timing "was a mistake", and that the taxes required for the plan were not in fact earmarked for the proposed projects, but were related to the budget deficit.
He also asked about a $700 loan, which he said, was still unspent. "The amount was geared to develop remote and deprived region, but so far the money was not used for that purpose", he said. "It is not at all permissible to mix between projects designed for deprived areas and the levying of taxes ".
On the possibility of changing or reshuffling the government, Berri said, "why change the government now? There is no governmental crises at all".
Interior Minister Michel Murr, after meeting in Paris his French Counterpart Jean-Pierre Chevenement, yesterday said that Lebanon is currently facing a number of dangers leading among them are two: The Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, and the presence of 300,000 Palestinians of whom 20,000 are armed inside the camps.
"Anybody committing a crime in Lebanon, could takes refuge in these camps, and our armed forces cannot prosecute him, not out of weakness, but because there is an international decision preventing that", Murr said. "Agreements between Israel and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat were signed without taking the Palestinians in Lebanon into account. Consequently, Palestinians in Lebanon began to view the matter as if there was no solution to their problem".
"On the other hand, the Lebanese people, all the Lebanese people, and the government cannot possibly accept settling them in Lebanon", he added. "Lebanon is against the settlement of the Palestinian people on Lebanese soil, and this is a problem that could have security repercussions because some of these Palestinians deal with Arafat, and Arafat deals with Netanyahu".
Consequently, Murr concluded. "had it not been for the support the Arab Syrian forces are giving to our security and military forces, the security situation in Lebanon could now be suffering from chaos and repeated confrontations with the factions wanting to harm the country's security and stability".
-Foreign minister Fares Boueiz, on leaving to New York to attend the UN General Assembly's 52nd meeting, said, "some ministers did not reject the plan proposed by Prime Minister Hariri, but had a different view with regard to the necessity of setting out a comprehensive economic reform policy under which tax increase could be introduced.
-Lebanon's Hospitals Syndicate today decided to collect hospital bills directly from the patients, who, in turn, would have to collect them from the insuring party. The Syndicate said the decision was necessitated by the inability of the government to pay its debts to hospitals. Information Minister Bassem Sabaa called on the Syndicate today, trying to convince it to go back on its decision. Meeting later with Prime Minister Hariri, Sabaa said Hariri was upset by the Syndicate's decision because he views public health as a red line that should not bypassed.
-Army commander General Emile Lahoud, inspecting Army front lines in western Biqaa yesterday, said, "the Israeli threats will not discourage the Lebanese army from carrying its duties in confronting occupation".
-Two SLA men and a woman were reportedly wounded near Bint Jbeil during an artillery duel following an attack launched by the Islamic resistance against an Israeli land patrol near the Beit Yahoun outpost.
-National Liberal Party leader Dori Chamoun said the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri should not be taken seriously as this would undermine "Solidere", the real estate company for which he came to the power.
-Winter time in Lebanon is to begin midnight, 27-28 September.
-The Sodeco building that is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering at the heart of Beirut will not be destroyed as has been earlier decided. The building will be enlisted among other heritage structures in Lebanon.
-Lebanese world famous pianist Walid Akl died today in Paris following a recent heart surgery. Akl was lately scheduled to play in Beirut. Famous for his Hayden and Beethoven overtures, Akl has performed all over the world, and was living in Paris since 1963. He died at the age of 52.
-UAE newly appointed ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Ahmad Amran yesterday arrived to Beirut. Lebanon's relations with the UAE have been steadily growing, with about 100,000 Lebanese working there.
-Prime minister Rafik Hariri, in respond to a motion by MP Abdallah Kassir, affirmed that there are no agreements governing the deportation of Lebanese citizens from Germany. Hariri said that Germany has decided to deport 15,291 Lebanese out of 55,602, in addition to 6,114 Palestinians.
-Lebanese Ansar once again beated Al Wehda-Yemen 2-0 and is qualified to the final quarter of the Asian Clubs-17.
-Lebanon's Tennis union classified players for 1997 according to the Brummana open tournament with Ghassan Ashkar and Ibrahim Kheil first, Toufic Zahalan second and Ali Hamadeh fourth. Rabih Abu Hassoun was classified first among non-Lebanese, and Sauzanne Sayed classified first among women.
-Lebanon football championship-Dawri 38 third phase will mark six matches during this weekend. Ahd is to play with Nejmeh on Saturday at the Bourj Hammoud Stadium. Ikhaa Ahli-Aley will play against Ahli-Sidon on Saturday. Riyada wal Adab is to play on Sunday with Homenmen. Shabab Sahel to play against Homentmen on Sunday. Hikmeh against Safa and Tadamoun-Tyr against Bourj.
-Antranik, homentmen and Shabab Ghobeiri were qualified for the final of Lebanon's basketball championship for women.
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