|Date: Sep 8, 2020|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Cabinet formation bid off to slow start amid fears of hurdles|
BEIRUT: Amid a shroud of secrecy, Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib's bid to form a new government appear's off to a slow a start despite a two-week French deadline, political sources said Sunday.
Adib’s Cabinet consultations came amid renewed French criticism of Lebanese political leaders for dragging their feet over implementation of long-overdue reforms.
“Prime Minister-designate Adib is struggling in earnest to form the new government next week in line with the two-week deadline set by French President Emmanuel Macron for Lebanon’s political leaders for the Cabinet formation,” a political source told The Daily Star. “But it remains to be seen whether the political leaders will honor their promises to Macron to facilitate the formation of a new government by this deadline,” the source said.
A source at Baabda Palace said the Cabinet formation process had got off to a slow start, rather than making haste as leaders had hoped.
“So far, it has been confirmed that the government will be made up of 20 members. But its composition has yet to be settled on whether it will be entirely made up of specialists, or specialists with some political figures,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source ruled out the prospects that Adib would present a Cabinet lineup to President Michel Aoun Wednesday as reported by local media. “It’s too early to say that the new Cabinet might be formed Wednesday because the stage of naming potential ministers has not yet started,” the source said.
He added that a proposed rotation of the key ministerial portfolios could materialize if such a proposal gained the consent of the country’s main political parties.
Adib’s behind-the-scenes meetings Friday with the key political aides of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Hussein Khalil respectively, did not indicate that the Cabinet formation process had gotten off to a smooth start. Adib was also reported to have held separate talks with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil on the Cabinet formation.
Although Adib’s meetings with the Amal, Hezbollah and FPM officials were mostly introductory, they focused on the nature, size and the mission of the next government, without touching on the distribution of ministerial portfolios, local media said.
But Adib’s Cabinet consultations came amid reports that Berri’s Amal Movement insists on retaining the key Finance Ministry portfolio, while Hezbollah also wants to retain the Health Ministry, the first time the Iran-backed group has held such an important ministry.
Similarly, Bassil, whose FPM has held the Energy Ministry for more than 10 years, is proposing a rotation among the country’s main political parties of the four sovereign ministries: the Finance, Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs portfolios. Other coveted ministerial portfolios that had delayed the Cabinet formation for months in the past are the Energy, Health, Telecommunications and Public Works ministries.
All these factors are likely to pose major hurdles to Adib’s Cabinet formation attempts. Choosing ministers in the past has taken months of haggling and horse-trading among rival factions.
Adib is yet to meet with officials from the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party as part of his consultation on the Cabinet formation.
Although Adib was designated to form a new government on Aug. 31 with a big parliamentary majority, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and three other ex-premiers, Hariri’s Future Movement, the PSP and the Lebanese Forces [which did not nominate Adib for prime minister], have declared that they will not participate in the government.
Adib was selected as the new premier after Prime Minister Hasan Diab submitted the resignation of his government on Aug. 10 over the deadly explosion that ripped through Beirut Port last month. The Aug. 4. explosion, the biggest in Lebanon’s history, left large swaths of the capital in ruins, killing at least 191 people, injuring 6,500 and displacing about 300,000 people. The World Bank Group has placed the damage from the explosion at as high as $4.6 billion, with an additional $2.9 billion to $3.5 billion incurred in economic losses in the wake of the blast.
Adib’s Cabinet consultations came against the backdrop of Macron’s growing pressure on Lebanon’s political leaders to press ahead with the speedy formation of a new government comprised of specialists to enact reforms.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Sunday criticized Lebanese leaders for failing to carry out reforms, saying that Lebanon was sinking while its leaders talked aimlessly and failed to enact reforms.
“We are nearly on board the Titanic, but without the orchestra,” Le Drian said about Lebanon in an interview with French broadcaster France Inter. “The people talk endlessly but nothing happens.”
Le Drian’s comments came just days after Macron presented a proposed reform road map to Lebanese leaders. In the wake of the Beirut blast, France convened a UN-backed conference to support the Lebanese people. Donors pledged nearly $300 million to respond to Lebanon’s immediate humanitarian needs.
Macron Tuesday pledged to hold a second donor conference in October to raise additional funds for rebuilding Beirut, but only if Adib’s new government quickly gets to work on the points set out in the French road map.
“We know that half the population is under the poverty line, that the [Central] Bank is close to failing and no longer has liquidity, and that no reform is happening,” Le Drian said. “And yet this same country has just asked for international aid.”
Clearly nonplussed by the lack of action, Le Drian pointed to the fact that France in 2018 organized another international donor conference that put $11 billion at Lebanon’s disposal, subject to reforms being implemented.
These include revamping the electricity sector, which bleeds $2 billion from the Treasury annually, as well as fiscal and governance reforms.
These same measures are included in Macron’s road map, which also calls for Adib’s government to immediately resume stalled bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund on a $10 billion bailout package and to make a slew of key administrative and civil service appointments within one month.
Describing the country as “on the verge of distress,” Le Drian emphasized France’s friendly, historic relations with Lebanon, saying that the former colonial power’s role was to “help observe the implementation of the reforms with the international community.”
“Everyone has their role, and we are in a friendly role,” he said.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai urged Adib to form an emergency government that was "small, qualified and strong," saying the new Cabinet should not return to past ways of "clientelism, corruption and bias."
"Fateful times require a government [made up] of the people and for the people, and not [made up of] politicians for the politicians. Fateful times require a government in which there is no monopoly on portfolios, no sharing out of benefits, no dominance by one group, and no landmines that disrupt its work and decisions," Rai said in his Sunday sermon.
He said the new government must negotiate responsibly with the IMF and unleash “real reforms, neutralize Lebanon from regional conflicts, restore to the Lebanese their bank deposits, attract international aid and rebuild the capital and the port.”