by Chaden Hani
With the world’s third-highest ratio of debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Lebanon has endured years of weak economic growth and was urged by the International Monetary Fund this year to carry out “urgent” measures to put public finances back on a sustainable footing. Lebanon recorded a Government Budget deficit equivalent to 11 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018.
Lebanon has begun preparations to implement projects endorsed at the April 2018 CEDRE conference (“Conférence économique pour le développement, par les réformes et avec les entreprises”) in Paris, an international conference supporting reforms aimed at boosting the Lebanese economy. International donors at the conference pledged to grant soft loans for the establishment of investment projects totaling $11.8 billion in value. Yet, more recently, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Ferid Belhaj said that if Lebanon wanted to see any CEDRE money soon, it needs to get serious about implementing reforms.
Lebanon has no way out of its economic crisis other than to obtain the loans and grants provided by CEDRE. Lebanon is in dire need of the $11.8 billion in soft loans from donor countries to rehabilitate its aging infrastructure. But, in order to attract these funds, the government needs to show unwavering determination to cut the deficit by at least 1 percent.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government has pledged to implement radical reforms in a bid to reduce the mounting budget deficit and to implement the CEDRE measures. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil proposed measures to reduce the budget deficit by cutting off salaries of ministers, MPs and civil servants by 15 percent for a period of 3 years, excluding public sector workers and those with low income. This measurement resulted in criticism from other political parties and trade unions and prompted calls for protest across the country from retired military personnel and government employees.
These temporary reductions are intended to save the country from a financial collapse, as they constitute a burden on the economy. But, we must question what is it that brought Lebanon to this crisis. Can the Lebanese people dismiss a long history of corruption, ranking Lebanon 138 out of 175 countries according to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International? Recent history in the MENA has proven the futility of reform processes when paired with a continuation of corrupt leadership lacking accountability. Poverty in Lebanon has been on the rise for the last ten years, and its main reason is corruption. Yes, at what time does austerity start punishing the poor? Should we consider dropping the CEDRE recommendations and allow for the imminent financial crash to occur before rebuilding this country anew? How can we as a nation begin to trust the leadership of our country?
Jesus and the apostles functioned within the society in which they were found. The socioeconomic and political factors of the day were to greatly influence the teachings of Jesus and his disciples. In taking sides with the poor, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees, known for their oppression and exploitation of the poor, in response to their self-indulgence and greed (Matt 23:25-33). Jesus’ preaching about the “Kingdom” made it abundantly clear that God took seriously the concerns of the poor and needy.
The New Testament sees the ministries of mercy as an individual obligation as well as a corporate endeavor of the church. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Thus, members of the first Christian congregation “sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Ac 2:45). Within the group, at least in the early decades, there was a conscious rejection of the status-conscious norms of society and of the status-serving conduct of socio-political leaders. The arrival of the “Kingdom” contained the seeds of economic revolution and social reversal, where tax collectors and harlots would gain entry before those who appeared to be religious and respectable (Matt 21:31-32), and the rich and satiated would become acquainted with want and hunger.
Can we look to the church for to have an influence on public life and for helping flip the norms that prevail within the country’s leadership? Are there any twelve people that could begin “kingdom” reform able eradicate the origins of corruption?
The religious institutions can play an active role in their communities and in the country in general. Each church has its own context and vision, in spite of that churches can all participate in some activities that can advance reform, like the following suggested ideas: