WED 18 - 9 - 2019
Date: Feb 28, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanese think country going in wrong direction: survey
Rebecca Kelber| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Ninety-five percent of respondents to a survey said they believed Lebanon was heading in the wrong direction, according to data released Wednesday. The survey was commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is connected to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party.

The German foundation said its poll was the first to measure Lebanese people’s perceptions of their country’s economic and financial situation.

Rabih Haber, director of Statistics Lebanon, which conducted the survey, said the country’s middle class was shrinking.

While three-quarters of the respondents said they were employed, 36 percent earned less than $1,000 per month. More than half of the respondents said they didn’t have health insurance.

Half of the respondents identified high costs as the main issue affecting their families, with almost 90 percent saying they couldn’t save money and nearly half saying they could only afford necessities.

Only 5 percent of respondents said they thought the current economic situation was good.

As a result, 30 percent of those surveyed said they believed emigration would improve their economic situation and their ability to find jobs.

Those polled had varied opinions about the biggest problems facing Lebanon, with 16 percent saying corruption and 15 percent the economy in general.

Others identified problems on the individual level, like high living costs (13 percent) and a lack of job opportunities (12 percent).

Haber cautioned that the responses didn’t necessarily indicate what the greatest issues were, as people could be influenced by topics frequently discussed in the media. “We perceive that the biggest challenge is corruption, but the biggest challenge could be the electricity sector,” Haber said.

A surprising result was disproving the widespread belief that many Lebanese spend hours each day commuting. In fact, they need 17 minutes on average to get to work, since traffic jams on the coastal highway don’t affect most people.

Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said the biggest problem the study highlighted wasn’t how respondents perceived the current economic situation, but rather their outlook for the future. Almost 80 percent were pessimistic about Lebanon’s future, with two-thirds expecting a decrease in job opportunities and 60 percent an increase in prices.

Respondents didn’t believe politicians and the government would be able to improve the situation, with almost 90 percent criticizing the economic performance of the government and the political parties.

The only state institutions toward which respondents expressed positive attitudes were security and military forces.

Given that most respondents said they were struggling financially and didn’t believe any improvements were forthcoming, two-thirds said it wasn’t the right time for them to make big purchases like furniture, with even fewer indicating willingness to buy a car or house. The lack of consumption could worsen Lebanon’s economic situation.

Lebanon’s economy has faced increased difficulty since the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011. Nader said the economy’s growth rate has not exceeded 1.5 percent since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict.

The low growth rate coupled with the influx of Syrian refugees, Nader said, has led to a decrease in Lebanon’s GDP per capita over the time period.

World Bank statistics reported GDP growth rates of 2.8 percent in 2012 and 2.7 percent in 2013.

Nader said Lebanon’s current economic situation was also a result of increased government spending in the past four years that hadn’t been used to create sufficient wealth. He said government expenditures should be used for investments to create more job opportunities.

He added that Lebanon had a so-called twin deficit, meaning the country suffered simultaneously from a budget deficit and a trade deficit. This historically uncommon situation for Lebanon has led to increased interest rates that also hinder investments and consumption.

Those surveyed said they trusted the Lebanese pound and the Central Bank’s management of the currency.

To improve the economic situation, Nader suggested the government simultaneously spend less on the energy sector and salaries.

He also highlighted the economic reforms presented at last year’s CEDRE conference as a good starting point.

The conference, held in Paris last April, saw the international community pledge over $11 billion in soft loans and grants to Lebanon, which needs to enact a series of reforms in order to unlock the funds.

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