State of dysfunction

Lebanon is currently facing a number of momentous challenges, which range from dealing with the potential regional fallout of Arab uprisings to the trying to spur much-needed domestic economic activity in a volatile international climate.

And then there’s the electricity, and the roads.

Over the last few weeks, the biggest “drama” that has emerged in Lebanon has involved the topic of electricity, in the form of a controversial plan put forward by the energy minister to boost production, one that would cost $1.2 billion in its initial stage.

So far, the only thing that has been boosted has been the blood pressure of MPs and ministers. They have been generating a considerable amount of verbal fireworks as they do battle, requiring the efforts of a Sherlock Holmes to name the precise details of the plan in the first place – or if there is actually any plan at all in the first place.

These politicians might have convincing arguments at their disposal, but they should remember that when the debate descends to the level of “he’s lying” versus “no, he’s lying,” any useful remarks that they make are in danger of being ignored by the media, which feels compelled to relay the most dramatic events of the day.

While such battles between politicians from the March 14 and March 8 camps are understandable, the problem is that the conflict exists within the government itself. The sponsors of the electricity plan, the Free Patriotic Movement, are dead-set on getting their way, and if they don’t, no one else will be able to get their business done.

Even though a strike by taxi drivers was narrowly averted last week, by a promise to see the Cabinet discuss the transport sector, this effort was stalled Monday.

The FPM declined to help its ally in the government, the public works minister (from the Progressive Socialist Party), and his comprehensive plan, which stems from the PSP’s lack of full support for the electricity plan. The net result is that people’s economic interests are being ignored, in a climate of “give me what I want or I will paralyze the government.”

It’s as if the politicians in the Najib Mikati government weren’t paying attention over the last several years, when paralysis of the executive (and legislative) branch of government was the name of the game. This might have scored political points, but everyone is aware of how many pressing items piled up – such as electricity, and transport issues.

It was supposed to be a new Cabinet, of “one color,” but the factions, fragmentation and dysfunction of the political class are just as evident as in the past.

It was supposed to be a Cabinet of “getting to work,” but as long as it operates under a system of take no prisoners, precious little is being done for the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 21, 2011, on page 7.




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