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    Behave Like a Government

    If there is one thing the Lebanese government demonstrated it couldn’t do in 2010, it was multi-task. This may be more down to the fact that March 8 members of the government sees their job as ensuring that the slim March 14 majority was unable to go about the day-to-day business of state, a pattern of behavior we are reassuringly told is called consensus politics. But the fact remains that in 2010 its performance was nothing short of a disgrace, such was the blinkered preoccupation with certain issues – most notably the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and who killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – at the expense of virtually everything else.

    We may be a nation that has defied global economic trends and succeeded in delivering 6 percent growth, while other countries have sat in a two-year economic winter, but the government cannot claim any credit for our healthy balance sheet. The money flowed into Lebanon despite the government, not because of it. If the truth be told, the government has been nothing more than a burden to those who seek to consolidate Lebanon’s economic potential.

    But even then our so-called good fortune is a poisoned chalice of sorts, for it is a balance sheet that tells only half the story. Much of the money came from two sources: The pockets of wealthy foreigners, mostly Arabs, who use Lebanon as a place to let off steam and escape the heat of their own countries, and a building boom that defies all economic analysis, and which still may turn out to be a bubble. Life for the average Lebanese has not been reflected in this vigorous economic performance. Instead, we are once again waiting for a decision from leaders of other countries – this time we wait for the so-called Syrian-Saudi track to find a way out of the suffocating deadlock.

    Nonetheless, the realities of the region aside, in 2011 our leaders must shoulder their responsibility when it comes to the needs of the people who elected them to office, public or otherwise.

    Where to begin? The government must, as a priority (it has been nearly 20 years after all) work to provide full access to 24-hour electricity. It must also harness Lebanon’s abundant water resources. We could also use a decent public transportation system, but we will be happy if the roads become safer. Simply, we should have access to the basic utilities that many similar nations take for granted and which we have no excuse not to provide.

    Lebanon is not Rwanda or Afghanistan, or any other third world hellhole. If it can attract as many millionaires per square kilometer as the south of France, the state has not excuse not to cater to the basic needs of its citizens. The imbalance simply cannot continue.

    Furthermore, at a time when the world’s governments are placing green issues at the top of their agendas, Lebanon cannot begin to call itself an enlightened nation until it is seen to do the same and stop the rampant environmental damage wrought upon the country over the past 35 years. It is a culture of destruction to which successive governments have not only turned a blind eye, but in many cases have actively lent a hand. It must stop.

    Elsewhere, the public sector should be gradually purged (yes it can be done) and staffed by committed, qualified and honest technocrats. Meanwhile, the political class and senior civil servants should set an example of moral probity. Rank, even a ministerial portfolio, does not give one the right to push to the front of the queue, demand privilege and favor, shout at the general public or push it off the road. The people take their cue from their so-called leaders, so the example to the nation must be set from the top down.

    Maybe the government should meet more often. There is much work to be done.

    NOW Lebanon
    03.01.2011

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