BEIRUT: The Economic Committees, Lebanon’s leading private sector association, geared up Wednesday for a nationwide strike planned for next week, as the Central Bank ruled out monetary instability. The head of the committees, businessman Adnan Kassar, said Wednesday that the decision to call for a general strike came after repeated warnings to officials about the impact of the political vacuum on the economy.
“The hard choice to go on strike came after repeated calls on officials to end tense political rhetoric,” Kassar said in a statement. “These calls were ignored until the country and the economy reached the situation it is currently facing.”
The economic situation was the spotlight of a closed-door meeting of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi.
“The monetary situation in the country is stable,” Salameh was quoted as saying in a statement from Mikati’s office. None of the three officials wanted to comment further, the statement said.
But Mohammad Choukeir, head of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, said Lebanon could plunge into a crisis mirroring the one that hit Greece and Spain.
“The positive results of banks and reassurances of the Central Bank governor about the Lebanese pound and monetary situation are important ... but if things continue on this pace of deterioration ... all strengths will be endangered,” he said. “The only difference between Lebanon and these countries is that they found help being European Union members.”
Kassar reiterated the committees’ call for the urgent formation of a Cabinet “capable of taking charge of security and the economy and stop the bleeding of businesses.”
He said the group had contacted the General Labor Confederation and planned to do so with the Union Coordination Committee in a bid to coordinate moves.
The Economic Committees led long but successful negotiations with the GLC over a minimum wage increase in 2011, but it has been in a confrontation with the UCC over a plan to boost public salary wages.
Choukeir called on all business, including banks, to join the strike.
“We call on all private businesses – commercial, industrial, financial and touristic – to gear up for the general closure on Sept. 4, if political forces fail to heed the committees’ call for forming a Cabinet,” he said.
Choukeir said businesses had been seeing lower activity across the board and were facing losses that had already driven “hundreds” to close down.
“The decline in business is unprecedented since the Civil War,” he said.
“We will be ready for further escalatory steps, to be announced later, if the situation remains unchanged,” he added.