SUN 5 - 2 - 2023
Date: Nov 26, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
ISG urges Lebanese leaders to form govt, implement reforms
Contacts to be intensified in bid to break Cabinet deadlock
BEIRUT: The International Support Group for Lebanon Tuesday expressed its concern regarding government formation delays and urged Lebanese authorities to implement immediate reforms.

“The ISG underscores again the overriding need for Lebanon’s political leaders to agree to form a government with the capacity and will to implement necessary reforms without further delay,” the ISG said in a statement.

The group also called on the current caretaker government to “fulfill their immediate responsibilities” and work on the necessary steps to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis on Lebanese families and businesses.

The International Support Group was launched in September 2013 and brought together the United Nations, the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with the European Union and the Arab League.

The statement also affirmed ISG’s backing of France’s idea of holding an international conference that aims to support Lebanon early next month.

“The ISG welcomes France’s intention to hold an international humanitarian and early recovery conference in support of the people of Lebanon by early December, co-chaired by the United Nations,” the ISG said.

Contacts to be intensified in bid to break Cabinet deadlock

Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Contacts between internal players and foreign powers will be stepped up in an attempt to break the weekslong Cabinet deadlock and avert the country’s slide into a prolonged power vacuum, with all the grave consequences this entails for the ailing economy, political sources said Tuesday.

“The Cabinet formation process is still at a standstill. But we hope that the planned contacts will help facilitate the quick formation of a new government to carry out the required reforms stipulated in the French initiative,” a political source familiar with the process told The Daily Star.

“Contacts among rival Lebanese factions and contacts between foreign powers and internal players will be intensified starting this week with the aim of making a breakthrough in the Cabinet impasse in order to avoid the country’s slide toward further turmoil,” the source said.

He was apparently referring to efforts by France, which has emerged as the main power broker in Lebanon since the August deadly explosion that pulverized Beirut Port and damaged half of the capital, in nudging rival political leaders to agree on the swift formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to deliver urgent reforms deemed crucial to unlocking promised international aid to the crises-ridden country.

The absence of contacts between rival factions, as well as the lack of progress in a series of meetings between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to resolve differences over the shape and makeup of a new government have raised fears of a prolonged Cabinet gridlock that could drag on until the New Year, with all the adverse effects it has on a country teetering on the verge of a total economic collapse.

An official source said no meeting was held Tuesday between Aoun and Hariri as the two leaders remain poles apart over the naming of Christian ministers in the next government and unified criteria in the formation.

“Things are not back to square one, but the Cabinet formation process is at a standstill due to a lack of progress,” the source told The Daily Star.

According to the source, Hariri, during his last meeting with Aoun at Baabda Palace, presented the names of seven Christian ministers, while leaving the president to pick the names of the two remaining Christian ministers in the proposed 18-member Cabinet of specialists.

“Hariri’s proposal did not work,” the source said, indicating that Aoun had rejected the proposal and insisted on naming most of the nine Christian ministers.

In a development that is likely to further complicate the already stalled Cabinet formation bid, Aoun, in a televised speech Saturday night on the 77th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence from France, implicitly accused Hariri of deviating from unified criteria in the formation. Aoun’s accusation marked an escalation by him and his son-in-law, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil, of their positions on the Cabinet formation process by insisting on naming most of the nine Christian ministers.

As the Cabinet impasse persisted with no solution in sight, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again appealed to Lebanon’s political leaders to act to quickly form a new government capable of enacting the required reforms and fulfilling the needs of the Lebanese people, according to a statement released by Guterres’ spokesman Sunday.

The Cabinet deadlock comes as Lebanon is wrestling with multiple crises, including an economic meltdown, an alarming spike in coronavirus infections and the serious consequences of the Aug. 4 port blast that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands, left 300,000 people homeless and caused losses worth billions of dollars.

Since he was designated on Oct. 22 to form a new government to be tasked with implementing structural reforms outlined in the French initiative, Hariri’s attempts have first hit snags over rival factions’ jockeying for key ministerial seats. They were later further complicated by the Nov. 6 imposition of US sanctions on Bassil over corruption charges and his ties to Hezbollah, long labeled a terrorist organization by Washington. Bassil responded to the US sanctions by hardening his stance and setting conditions for the formation that run counter to Hariri’s proposed 18-member Cabinet of specialists.

The FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc has repeatedly called for the adoption of unified criteria in the Cabinet formation, especially for each party to name its ministers and the rotation of so-called four “sovereign ministries” – Defense, Finance, Interior and Foreign Affairs. It also rejected allotting two ministries to same minister.

But Hariri, according to Future officials, is insisting on naming all ministers in agreement with the president.

Lebanon has remained without a fully functioning government since caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab submitted his Cabinet’s resignation on Aug. 10 in the aftermath of the port blast.

Meanwhile, divisions over a forensic audit of the Central Bank’s accounts, a key demand of international donors, cast gloom over the Cabinet formation efforts.

The two rival Christian parties, the FPM and the Lebanese Forces, have apparently teamed up in a campaign against Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, accusing him of obstructing the audit.

The FPM and LF also accuse Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Future Movement of seeking to obstruct the forensic audit of Banque du Liban’s accounts, media reports said.

This comes as Berri Tuesday called for a general parliamentary session Friday to discuss Aoun's call to Parliament earlier in the day to safeguard Lebanon's international standing.

Aoun sent a letter to Parliament stressing the importance of a forensic audit of the Central Bank to prevent Lebanon from being viewed as a “rogue or failed” country by the international community.

“A forensic audit is a prerequisite for the state’s negotiation with the International Monetary Fund,” Aoun said, adding that confidence in Lebanon’s authorities and institutions was a requirement of the international community.

“Forensic auditing is necessary so that Lebanon does not become one of the rogue or failed countries in the eyes of the international community,” Aoun said.

Caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni announced last week that the restructuring consultancy firm Alvarez & Marsal had pulled out of the audit because the Central Bank refused to provide it with all the information and documents required to carry out the task, citing a banking secrecy law.

The termination of the contract is a big setback for the authorities to uncover any suspicious accounts at BDL.

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