Lebanon’s Cabinet fails independence test

Few in Lebanon were ever convinced by Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s assertion that his government was “independent” and “technocratic”.

It has hired United Kingdom-based public relations experts and international consultants, its ministers are all new faces, and its prime minister speaks fluent Arabic and gives at-times inspiring speeches – unlike his predecessor.

But, analysts have said, beneath the embellishments, the same old figures govern.

Most of Diab’s ministers were appointed by the same handful of sectarian politicians and former warlords against whom hundreds of thousands of people rose up against across the country last October in an unprecedented anti-establishment uprising.

When Diab’s government came to power after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet was toppled, attempts by some ministers to implement even humble changes were repeatedly quashed: A capital controls law was killed off because powerful Shia political leader Nabih Berri, who has been speaker of parliament for some 28 years, said it was a non-starter.

A Cabinet decision to construct two power plants instead of three to solve Lebanon’s perennial electricity cuts was reversed after the main Christian party of President Michel Aoun objected to not having a power plant in its majority-Christian area of influence.

But on Wednesday, with Cabinet’s endorsement of 20 key administrative and financial appointments according to the same old pie-sharing system, rather than strictly based on merit and qualifications, analysts said any illusions of independence should be put to rest.

The ‘fig leaf drops’

Among the appointments made on Wednesday were four vice-governors to the Central Bank and members of the Banking Control Commission, Capital Markets Authority and a member of a specialised investigation committee at the Central Bank. The latter three are all oversight and regulatory bodies.

Cabinet also appointed a new director-general to the economy ministry, a new head to the Civil Service Council, akin to the state’s human resources department, as well as governors for Beirut and the northern Kesruan-Jbeil region.

Many of the financial positions are especially important today given Lebanon’s deep economic and financial crisis which the government has said will require a restructuring of its local and foreign-held debt, private banks and the Central Bank.

“This requires independent, non-political, competent, technically knowledgeable, experienced monetary and regulatory authorities … who are not subject to domination and intervention by corrupt politicians and their interests,” Nasser Saidi, a former vice-governor and economy minister, told Al Jazeera. Instead, Wednesday’s appointments “confirm the political establishment is continuing business as usual, despite the protests that started in October.”

“Political appointees cannot undertake deep reforms that threaten the interests of the political establishment and its cronies,” Saidi said.

Lebanon’s parliament had notably ratified a new independent mechanism for top-level appointments just two weeks ago that would force all candidates to undergo rigorous exams.


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