Running in idle

Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

The Lebanese Cabinet provided the country with yet another spectacle of dysfunction Thursday, as it wrestled with the issue of adjusting wage and salary scales in the public sector.

It wasn’t a matter of dealing with navigating Lebanon’s way through the Syria crisis next door, the weapons of Hezbollah, or the plight of Lebanese kidnapped in other countries. It wasn’t a matter of forging consensus on proportional representation in next year’s parliamentary elections, or trying to explain how this could work. It was a simple matter of endorsing something that is a legitimate right, and a mathematical exercise in adding up two rows of figures.

It was the kind of issue that Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government promised to address when it came to office, under the slogan of “getting to work” and solving the everyday problems that had built up because of political paralysis.

For much of the day, people following the news at the bottom of television news screens, or on their mobile phones, radios or computers, were “treated” to what seemed like a television musalsal. Episode 1: The Cabinet has passed the salary and ranks scales. Episode 2: The Cabinet hasn’t actually passed the salary and ranks scales. Episode 3: The Cabinet has approved the ranks and salary scales, but no one is sure what this means exactly.

This went on until the agreement was spelled out, somewhat, by the information minister, who said the government had approved the draft but had yet to figure out where the revenues would come from.

Minister Wael Abu Faour even boasted that the government had spent “two long days” in meetings about the topic, as if this was something to cheer about.

If the Cabinet had spent two long days on the issue months ago, instead of procrastinating and holding endless meetings that only confused people more than reassure them, the entire mess could have been avoided.

There is still no word on how and when the payments will take place. Moreover, the inflation that has gripped the country ever since the government began discussing the salary issue means that the impact of the move has been wiped out.

Even worse, the situation of private school teachers is in line with that of their public sector colleagues, so people now face the prospect of higher school tuitions this year.

Instead of sitting down and doing some hard work, and paying attention to public issues and concerns, the government is content to ignore them until public protests and strikes are held. And because it’s the education sector, even a peaceful protest has an impact on the general public, as parents learned this year with the boycott of correcting end-of-year examinations.

A “final episode” was promised Thursday, but it only featured a half-thought-out solution, while an actual, forward-looking policy was nowhere to be found.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 07, 2012, on page 7.




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