BEIRUT: In his first public appearance since his appointment as economy minister, Alain Hakim Wednesday urged the Lebanese to increase consumption to help revive the struggling economy.
“I call upon the Lebanese people not to give in to security threats prevailing in Lebanon and to join their efforts in activating internal tourism and increasing their consumption in addition to visiting restaurants and shops,” he said.
Hakim’s remarks came during a meeting with private sector officials at the Chambers of Commerce.
Hakim asked the public to rely on their own capabilities to revive the economy until the security situation improved and Arab tourists returned to Lebanon.
“We cannot wait for the security situation to stabilize in order to build our economy and activate the different economic sectors,” he said.
“We should try and adapt to the current situation.”
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of bombings related to the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria, which has contributed to a deterioration of the different sectors of the economy and created fear among Lebanese citizens.
The country’s tourism sector has suffered since Gulf states issued travel advisories warning their nationals to avoid Lebanon for security reasons.
“The government knows very well how important the contribution of Arab tourists to the Lebanese economy is, and it vows to attract them again to Lebanon,” he said.
“However, we should try to rely on our own capacity before relying on others for the coming three months.”
Hakim said that around 15 percent of Lebanese chose to spend their holidays outside Lebanon.
“We hope these people will stay in Lebanon during their vacations and boost the internal consumption,” he added.
Hakim said that the current government did not have a magic wand to revive the economy; however, the minister cited a list of goals that he aimed to work on during his time at the ministry.
“I will do my best to focus on upholding the laws and preserving government institutions to pave the way for the construction of a modern economy,” he said.
He also vowed to remove administrative and legal obstacles holding back private business and specifically the trade sector.
“I will also work on enhancing the logistics and technical capabilities of the consumer protection unit for a better supervision of the market,” he said.
Following Hakim’s speech, representatives from the private sector participating in the meeting shared their concerns and presented some of their demands.
“One of our main demands is to provide subsidies on interest rates for loans given to merchants just like any other sector,” said Nicolas Chammas, president of the Beirut Traders Association.
Chammas asked the minister to submit this demand to the Cabinet.
“If this initiative were approved by the government, it would then be easier to get it approved by the Parliament,” he said.
Chammas echoed the minister’s call for increasing internal consumption to help the trade sector.
“The local consumption usually constitutes 80 percent of total consumption in Lebanon,” he said.
“Therefore, our presence here today is a common effort between the public and the private sector to launch an awareness campaign among consumers to help in boosting the trade sector.”
Paul Ariss, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes and Nightclubs, asked the minister to lobby for the opening of Hamat airport in the north to secure a safe exit for Lebanese expatriates visiting Lebanon in case of security issues in Beirut.
“This only requires a decision by the government, and it can be implemented within three months only,” Ariss said.
Meanwhile, Charles Arbid, president of the Lebanese Franchise Association, emphasized the importance of lowering the cost of business in Lebanon across all of the economic sectors.
“Merchants are resorting to promotions in order to activate their businesses and attract clients. However, merchants are suffering by cutting their prices,” he said. “What we really need is efficient operation of our businesses.”
Jean Beyrouti, secretary-general of the Union of Tourism Syndicates, called on the new government to find practical solutions to the current crisis.
“Arab tourists such as Egyptians and Jordanians are spending their vacations in Turkey because tickets to Lebanon are more expensive,” he said. “Politicians must understand that people want to live because apparently they don’t care much.”