Shots of morphine

FILE - A classroom is seen empty during a teachers' strike at a school in the southern city of Sidon, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

Many classrooms and government offices will be empty in Lebanon Wednesday as part of the latest installment in the long-running saga of adjusting the salaries of teachers and civil servants.

Tens of thousands of people will be impacted by the strike, and a demonstration that is scheduled to wind through Beirut. They will undoubtedly wonder why all of the commotion is being generated about a fairly simple state budget and labor matter.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government has spent the better part of the year grappling with this seemingly intractable issue as if it were one of the most complex, sensitive matters of governance in the country’s history.

On the one hand, the Cabinet has endorsed the pay demands, but when it did so it failed to come up with the necessary revenues to pay for the move.

The salary adjustment went through for many private sector establishments earlier in the year, but the Cabinet conveniently forgot to follow through on other vital sectors, namely teaching and the public sector.

A series of meetings, negotiations and ultimatums then followed, resulting in the teachers’ boycotting of correcting end-of-year examinations.

This standoff finally ended, but not before many students and their parents were put through the wringer of worrying about their academic future.

All throughout the saga, the government has been administering shots of morphine instead of just sitting down and hammering out a true solution.

Instead of getting the entire package in a timely fashion, the government dragged its heels and allowed businesses to hike their prices wildly, thereby wiping out the impact of the salary adjustment. Whether it was a handful of fruits and vegetables, or the hefty, monthly fee for back-up electricity, inflation has robbed the government’s moves of any public benefit.

Instead of complaining about its inability to secure the revenues for this legitimate, deserved salary adjustment, the government could have spent some time putting its own house in order.

It could boost its revenue situation, namely in all the sectors where tax evasion is rampant. It could make an effort to fight corruption and waste, which siphons off hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy.

It could spend a little less time drowning the public in the debate over next year’s parliamentary election law, and stop entertaining the idea that MPs deserve pay raises – unless they can somehow prove they have boosted their productivity, which they obviously do not.

For the Cabinet, 2012 has been a year of sweeping things under the rug, as if this is a type of solution or policy in itself.

But whether it’s salary scales, protecting the country’s borders, cracking down on kidnapping, improving water and electricity service, or a host of other vital issues, the watchword has been a shot of morphine, and hope people forget. But they haven’t.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 10, 2012, on page 7.




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