CPI The Lebanese Center for Public Information

25. budget follow up

    Monday, July 2, 2007                                                Page 1

    A Solution to “machakelna”?

    Civil Society in Lebanon is seeking to discover the real
    cause of our “machakels”. All the time, the answer stares
    them in the face. It is the failure of our political leaders
    and our elected representatives to manage effectively our
    National Budget.

    So why don’t we get together and appoint an emergency
    public safety committee of nine members from the
    loyalists, the opposition and the independents to redefine
    the fiscal and the economic policy of this country?

    Once a solution to our fiscal and our economic problems
    is found, it will be easier to agree upon the legal and the
    constitutional issues. The European Union started in this
    way in 1956, so why can’t we?

    Holding interminable conferences on metaphysical
    subjects not directly related to our daily problems,
    accusing the confessional system of being responsible
    for all our ills without proposing any logical alternative,
    setting obscure goals such as “transparency” and “good
    governance” without recommending how to attain them,
    coming up with ill prepared initiatives without prior
    agendas, squandering precious resources on organizing
    training courses or missions, at home or abroad, on
    projects that may be fine in the West but have little chance
    of success in our country, skimming over the economic
    causes of our political debacle without identifying the real
    culprit and without defining the sickness and
    recommending the remedy, these are some examples of
    the futile and sometimes costly attempts by our Civil
    Society to find a solution to our “Machakels”.

    The origin of the problems that our Nation faces is
    simpler than one could imagine. At the same time the
    ramifications of these”machakels” are so complex that
    the use of imported, ready-made solutions has proved

    The remedy to most of our ills stares us right in the face.
    Still we go on ignoring it and we refuse to take the only
    course that may lead us to recover, not only our national
    identity and our economic stability, but also and above all,
    our “sense of belonging” and a strong “raison de vivre”.

    Let me explain. Lebanon is a country of four and a half
    million inhabitants whose government currently collects,
    on average, seven thousand billion Lebanese pounds in
    revenue per year and spends twelve thousand billion
    (see MOF report for the year 2006). This situation has
    earned our country the dubious honor of being the most
    indebted Nation in the world. Furthermore, the population,
    sensing that it is offered no valid program to counter this
    ballooning deficit, has lost hope in all their political
    leaders, opposition and loyalists alike.

    Rushing to fill this leadership vacuum, a host of foreign
    political interferences have sprung up and contribute to
    create a situation of unparalleled complexity.
    The solution, on the other hand, appears simple enough
    if one considers the original cause of the trouble.

    Under normal circumstances, this small country of
    10,000 square kilometers, that used to be dubbed the
    Switzerland of the Middle East, gifted with a wonderful
    climate, a strategic location, an abundance of natural
    resources and a smart and well educated population,
    ought to have steadily grown and prospered since it
    acquired independence in 1943.

    Unfortunately, the reverse occurred mainly because, in
    the opinion of the writer, some cardinal economic rules
    were ignored.

    Before the 1975-1990 Civil War no serious thought was
    given to develop and invest in the infrastructure of the
    country or its core resource, tourism. The only concern of
    our leaders was to maintain a relatively balanced budget.
    At the end of the war and until today, for numerous
    reasons that it is unnecessary to evoke now, the struggle
    to rebuild the country was not accompanied by a similar
    attempt to manage efficiently the National Budget
    The result is what we see today, a semi bankrupt country,
    a disillusioned population, helpless leaders easily
    manipulated by outside forces and constantly bickering
    among themselves.

    What is the solution then, would you ask? The solution
    would be for all the parties in Lebanon, loyalists,
    opposition and independents, to get together and appoint
    an emergency public safety committee of nine members,
    three from each group, who will have no executive or
    legislative powers but will be in charge of redefining the
    fiscal and the economic policy of this country.

                                                                                   Page 2

    Some will object: “But how can we find some solutions to our
    economic problems with the present imbroglio in our political
    system? Should we not deal first with the matters of the
    government of national unity or the presidential and the
    legislative elections? And how can we study Budget issues
    amid an atmosphere of assassinations, sit-ins, threats of
    border closures, the Nahr El Bared and the Ain El Heloue
    events, etc. etc.?”

    We believe that all that is happening in Lebanon today is
    engineered and orchestrated in order to worry us, distract us
    and prevent us from tackling our problems head on. Let us
    not fall into the trap that is set for us. Let us, on the contrary,
    meet and talk, and get on the business of making this country

    Another argument in favor of such an initiative comes to mind
    when we consider the birth and the build-up of the European
    Union. If the forefathers of the Common Market had decided
    to tackle constitutional issues and legal abstractions first,
    instead of the elemental economic issues of the time,
    charcoal and steel, the European Union would have never
    seen the light of day. In fact, fifty years after the Monnet
    Declaration the members of the European Union are still
    struggling to find some common legal denominators among
    themselves, though in practice, the “machine itself” is
    working quite satisfactorily. The proof is that the European
    Union has not suffered a single new war during that entire
    period. On the contrary, some century old conflicts, like the
    Irish puzzle, have been successfully resolved.
    So, why can’t the Lebanese inspire themselves from this
    example and adopt the same approach to settle their
    problems among themselves?

    Instead of arguing interminably about the “sex of the angels”,
    or who came first, the chicken or the egg, why don’t they get
    on to “brass tacks” and inspect and review together their
    National Budget and the way it is administered and run in
    order to find ways to balance it and, at the same time, to set
    the country on course toward progress and prosperity? Once
    an agreement is reached on the essentials, by this I mean
    the collection and the distribution of the national revenue and
    the development of the national resources, the rest, the legal
    and the constitutional issues, will be easier to agree upon.

    We, at the Lebanese Center for Public Information, will not be
    satisfied with lamenting the situation, expressing pious
    wishes or proposing solutions that some would wrongly call
    “far fetched”. We have already started our own investigative
    approach into the National Budget and we have published
    some of our findings into our web site and our blog sites (see
    the references at the end of this article). We challenge our
    readers to come to us and share with us their opinions and
    their proposals. Let them also engage in similar research
    work to discover new elements and new data on such
    subjects, as the EDL, the Telecom privatization or the
    reduction of our National Debt.

    Let us all roll up our sleeves and get to work together to find
    and propose new solutions to optimize the national revenue
    and rationalize the public expenditure and come up with new
    ideas to make this beloved country of ours prosper and
    occupy its rightful place in the region as the leader in
    democracy and progress.

    To learn more about our budget balancing campaign go to
    the following internet sites:

    1) “What do we expect from the liberalization or the
    privatization of Liban-Telecom?”
    For details go to: http://www.r22telecomsurplus.blogspot.com

    2) “When shall we tear down the ten-year old data iron curtain
    at EDL?”
    For details go to: http://www.e18edl.blogspot.com

    3) “Is there a plan to stabilize /reduce our Public Debt?”
    For details go to: http://www.e4debtservice.blogspot.com

    4) “Nine million square meters of real estate built in 2006 and
    relatively little to show for it in terms of real estate registration
    For details go to: http://wwwr8realestateregistrationfees.com

    5) For Information about “Machakelna.Org” or The Lebanese
    Center for Public Information, CPI :
    For details go to: http://www.machakelna.org

    6) For information about our budget deficit reduction
    For details go to: http://balancedbudget.blogspot.com/

    In Lebanon what is required
    is a true partnership between
    the Authorities and the citizens


    Participative governance and budgetary control

    In Lebanon what is required is a true partnership between the Authorities and the
    citizens. In this page of the web site we briefly enumerate the steps that should be
    taken to arrive at a coordinated partnership between the State institutions and Civil

    Foremost among these steps, lie the creation of the annual Budget and the
    subsequently monitoring of its implementation. It is essential that these two
    undertakings should be the joint product of the combined efforts of the public and the
    private sectors.

    In a previous page we published, for comparison's sake, a detailed statement of the
    Budget results for the years 2004 to 2009 as published by the Ministry of Finance.

    Some immediate and preliminary conclusions can be drawn at the lecture of these
    documents. The extent of the economies that can be realized in expenditure and the
    prospects of additional revenue within some of these budget heads can be easily
    recognized, even by an uninitiated reader.

    We then proceed to include a critical report on budgetary control that we had
    previously published on our blog site in July 2007. We wish to point out that a copy of
    this report was transmitted, at that time, to the Ministry of Finance and to a number of
    sister NGOs. Sad to say, no action was taken by the Public Authorities or by the
    NGOs, or by their donors. No explanation was provided by either for ignoring these
    recommendations, though we were too well aware of them.

    Let us hope that, after the latest events in Lebanon and in the Region, these NGOs
    and the new Public Administration in Lebanon will finally heed our calls and accept to
    support the recommended public budgetary control procedures aimed at enhancing
    the country’s economic prosperity and attaining some minimum levels of social
    justice through enlightened cooperation between the public and the private sectors.

    Let us warn everyone concerned, once more, that the alternative to such a course of
    action may be chaos and disorder in our country, as is presently the case in other
    parts of the Middle East.

    I fear event worse troubles in Lebanon that may lead to the outbreak of a civil war far
    more devastating than the previous one

    The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, all stem from the same
    source. I mean the marginalization of the citizens.

    In Lebanon we have witnessed the same absence of dialogue between the State
    and the people (Al Dawle wal Chab). The latter are wrongly considered by the
    politicians as immature, ignorant about matters concerned with public administration
    and public finances, and incapable of forming any valid opinion about them.

    Unfortunately, In that respect they may be partially right. The reason is that budgetary
    control or participative governance were never taught at school, or in the universities.
    They are still nowadays considered “taboo” subjects by the Education Authorities,
    whether public or private. This is indeed a great shame because these young
    students may be tomorrow's leaders.  It could even happen earlier than tomorrow,
    considering  the speed at which the brush fires of the revolution are spreading over
    the entire area.

    Without the necessary knowledge and training, how can one expect these young
    rebels to accomplish their task adequately and efficiently? We are seeing the likes of
    such capacity shortages in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, or worse still, in Libya.

    Or, is it fear of such competition that is moving our aged hereditary leaders, militia
    heads, and corrupt politicians supported by the monocracy, to forbid to these young
    elements the access to a basic democratic culture? Is it that they are mortally afraid
    of being ultimately denounced and losing their privileges?