Local

Legacy of a premier

Rafik Hariri leaves office as the embodiment of Lebanese entrepreneurship. The middle-class young man from Sidon who made it in Saudi Arabia and returned to invest in the homeland. Pictures of him on his own Future TV, and the international visibility he helped give Lebanon, convinced many compatriots to return.

Many, however, left again; disillusioned by corruption, sectarianism and suffocating bureaucracy. The economy he leaves behind is less of a success story than the rags-to-riches story of its architect.

Visitors to Beirut cannot help notice how well dressed people are here. There is nothing in the Levant to match Lebanese affluence. At more than $4,000, Lebanon has the highest per capita income of any non-oil producing Arab country.

The Lebanese can thank Hariri for helping maintain their paper wealth. Tight monetary policy has brought inflation from more than 90 percent in 1992 to 5 percent estimated by the central bank this year.

The exchange rate has appreciated from around LLl,700 to LL1,500 to the dollar over the same period, making the Lebanese pound one of the few currencies to appreciate for so long against the U.S. currency.

He departs, however, leaving behind one of the highest, if not the highest, budget deficit and public debt in the world. The budget deficit is likely to reach 14 percent of GDP this year and the public debt rose from less than $5 billion in 1993 to $16.73 billion at the end of October.

 

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