Time to multitask

On the one hand, focusing on a pressing issue is a good thing. On the other, focusing on one thing and ignoring a host of other equally pressing issues isn’t such a good thing.

Lebanon’s government met this week to discuss a parliamentary election law for 2013. Every party, sect and region of the country has its specific point of view on the issue, which is their right. However, the various players are also putting up a strong fight to see major reforms introduced, because they are concerned with their narrow interests, rather than the overall global result for the country.

While this is understandable in political terms, the problem is that this debate should have been completed a few decades ago. Instead, the government is raising hopes by tackling the issue early, and using it as a device to avoid decisions on a whole range of problems that pose dangers for Lebanon’s future.

The thorny issue of funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is one such matter that continues to generate worry among the public, amid the possibility of economic sanctions by the international community if Lebanese officials fail to pay this year’s share.

While the interior minister continues to describe the country’s security situation as “excellent,” the public continues to worry about violence and other crimes – is the government satisfied with its performance when it comes to keeping people and their property safe?

The government is also determined to use all of its efforts to maintain political and other forms of stability, but by focusing exclusively on the election law, officials are delaying progress on having a fully functioning state apparatus that can achieve such results.

There are hundreds of vacant posts in the state bureaucracy, and disputes over “which faction gets what” have delayed the replacement of the many officials who have been acting in a caretaker capacity – sometimes for years.

The head of the country’s highest legal body, the Judicial Council, remains vacant, while Lebanon’s diplomatic corps is shot through with vacancies. During a time of dramatic developments in the region and the world, having a fully functioning set of diplomats representing Lebanon’s interests abroad is crucial. But for the Cabinet, this appears to be something that can wait.

The state budget is also on the back burner, judging by the performance of the government, which is stymied by divisions over whether economic problems can be addressed in piecemeal fashion, or require a comprehensive socio-economic policy.

Some might think it’s clever to postpone divisive issues until a solution can be reached, but a policy of sweeping matters under the rug will only lead to an accumulation of dangerous problems. The result is, inevitably, an explosion, which will generate the usual reaction: crisis management and damage control, instead of proactive policies that can head off the explosion in the first place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 04, 2011, on page 7.




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