|Date: Oct 21, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Cabinet meets at Baabda Palace to discuss Hariri plan|
|BEIRUT: Cabinet convened at Baabda Palace Monday morning to discuss an economic blueprint put together by Prime Minister Saad Hariri in an attempt to appease protesters demanding the mass resignation of the country's political leaders.|
Security forces deployed to block the road leading to the presidential palace to prevent protesters from gathering and attempting to access the building.
Hariri met with President Michel Aoun at Baabda at around 10:20 a.m. ahead of the Cabinet session.
During the Cabinet meeting, local media reported that Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was involved in a heated exchange with another, unspecified Cabinet member.
Hariri’s blueprint, drawn up after two days of discussions with various parties in the government, contains a series of reforms to go alongside the draft 2020 state budget, but, crucially, does not include any new taxes.
According to a political source, these reforms include the closure of state-funded councils and funds, a 50 percent cut to the salaries of current and former state officials, $3.3 billion in contributions from banks to reduce the deficit, the privatization of the telecoms sector and an overhaul of the electricity sector, which runs at an annual deficit of around $2 billion.
Many of the proposals have been made before, but with less urgency. None of the proposals made public thus far appear to address the main demand of protesters: that officials resign and be held accountable.
In a tweet, Aoun said that the protests were an expression of the pain of the Lebanese people, but that it was unfair to accuse all in the government as corrupt.
Instead, he said that banking secrecy should be lifted from the accounts of both current and former officials.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets since Thursday demanding the resignation of the government and the return of “stolen money.”
Hariri Friday gave 72 hours for political parties to discuss ways to implement reforms to salvage the situation, in what many interpreted to be a threat that he may resign Monday.
The head of the Lebanese Forces announced Saturday night that the party's four ministers would submit their resignations. However, Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour, one of two Progressive Socialist Party ministers, said Sunday that his party was against Cabinet resignation, warning of financial collapse in the event of a government vacuum.