Lebanon’s government is openly committed to a policy of “disassociation” when it comes to Syria, but on the domestic front, a similar kind of neutrality, or drift, has taken full hold.
At a time in which bold, creative initiatives are needed to ensure that the country survives the turbulent regional situation as well as a crushing economic crisis at home, few people can say where Lebanon is headed.
For the government, even a policy item such as endorsing salary scales for teachers and civil servants is as complicated as the most sensitive national security matter. There are vague comments about the costs, and then promises to meet them with revenues. There are disputes over whether the entire package can be approved by the government, and then a surprise announcement about even higher costs, followed by excuses and justifications. A minister comes up with a solution to cover the expenditures, and the next day it’s forgotten, or declared illegal.
The upshot is that a whole stream of promises, pressure and stalling have accompanied the salary scales saga, as the government ignores warning strike after warning strike by the unions. For its part, the private sector has been adamant in its rejection of any such wage hike, and the government-led dialogue on this leading economic matter has led nowhere, except to more frustration. Instead of getting down to business and forging a compromise, the government has played hot potato with the issue. This week, an open strike in some government departments and mainly public schools began, and the Cabinet’s long-awaited meeting Wednesday failed to take action, as if the salary scale and strike were not pressing items of business.
Many people are seeing their children miss school days, and facing the prospect of their examination process being disrupted. Children have missed a large number of days already this academic year, and are already saddled with considerable makeup time. Other people are trying to get their daily business done, by making the rounds of government offices, and finding no one willing to process their paperwork.
On Thursday, the salary scales protesters will pay visits to government serials around the country; the Cabinet must also deal with unhappy taxi drivers, grumbling over high gasoline prices, and the bakery sector, where disputes over bread prices are always liable to return.
These are just some of many critical issues faced by Lebanon, but unlike the areas where complex geopolitical calculations come into play, sorting out the salary scale mess is not something that depends on the actions of foreign powers. It’s a homemade problem and sweeping it under the rug isn’t a solution. The government needs to act decisively and ensure that its answer will actually solve things, and not make them even worse.