Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cabinet Inaction Is Crippling Lebanon

This editorial was published by The Daily Star on 11/12/2010

The ongoing paralysis of Lebanon’s government is hollowing out the public sector and setting a terrible precedent in the erosion of constitutional institutions – and leaving unaddressed the mounting problems of the Lebanese citizenry.

The nation’s political factions have been polarized yet again by the prospect of the coming indictment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, but the unborn indictment has brought the Cabinet to a freeze. This inert state of affairs could easily persist until the indictment is made public, but tribunal officials have made it abundantly clear this week that the public is not going to find out names of the accused for a few months at the very least – and possibly until the second half of next year.

But where does that leave this country’s government? The Cabinet is the only organ that can approve a broad spectrum of measures necessary for the functioning of the state, and the public administration should not be left hostage to the unpredictable release of a charge sheet.

For example, many significant posts in the civil-service sector need to be filled, and the Cabinet’s inaction is crippling these institutions. Central Bank governor Riad Salameh’s term expires next year, and it is a critical national interest – for a state with such massive public debt and a currency that Salameh has done much to keep steady – that financial markets have clear signals about the future course of Lebanon’s steward of monetary policy.

In addition, the head of General Security, Wafic Jezzine, retired last week, and yet the nation’s security apparatus still awaits the naming of a successor.

At home, however, people are suffering because of the impotence of the executive branch. The list of existential concerns – such as electricity, water and road safety – would far exceed the space available here.

Politicians should know, too, that their irresponsible behavior will only come back to haunt them, as the inhabitants of this nation – regardless of their political affiliation become more ready to abandon the entrenched political class.

Just as dangerously, the politicians sabotaging the Cabinet are clearly violating the terms of the May 2008 Doha agreement. Many are putting conditions about what the government must discuss and when; the Constitution, on the other hand, makes eminently clear that only the prime minister sets the agenda of the government.

The question of the so-called false witnesses is one that politicians need to hammer out. The Constitution spells out in detail the prerogatives of the Cabinet and the Parliament. The national Dialogue table also offers an excellent forum to debate issues of great gravity. On paper, the state has the institutions necessary to handle the business of the state; when they do not meet, however, nothing at all will ever be accomplished.

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