BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun defended the economy under his leadership in a televised interview to mark the second anniversary of his election to the office, saying that “the economy can’t be restored in a short period.” He said that in this vein, the government has focused on two items: the appointment of U.S.-based consulting firm McKinsey to formulate an economic plan for the country, and the oil and gas sector.
Concerning the former, McKinsey presented a five-year plan to diversify and modernize the Lebanese economy. As for the oil and gas sector, in August caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil launched a tender book for liquefied natural gas import and supply stations an important step in securing gas to power Lebanon’s energy sector.
Aoun also responded to Lebanon’s economic doomsayers, saying he is “not [scared] for the [economic situation] now.”
But at the same time he warned, “If we continue like this, there will be a risk” of collapse.
Among the other topics Aoun touched on during the interview was Lebanon’s trash crisis, one of the key points in the government’s policy statement after the government was formed in 2016.
Earlier this year, it passed a law decentralizing solid waste management. “But now people are putting their trash at their neighbor’s houses; they don’t want incinerators,” Aoun said.
As for tourism, Aoun wants Lebanon to change course. “We gained around $3.5 billion from this year’s tourism, while Lebanese people spent around $5 billion” abroad, he said. Aoun said he wants to encourage the Lebanese to focus more on domestic tourism and choose to visit their own country rather than spend their vacations elsewhere. “We can close the deficit gap in one year,” he claimed.
The president also discussed the refugee crisis, reiterating his oft-stated stance that Syrians need to return to their home country.
“Fifty thousand to 60,000 [Syrian refugees] returned, and no one [there] slapped them. Otherwise, they would have returned” to Lebanon again, he said.
Aoun also stressed that the international community should give out aid in Syria to encourage more refugees to return, saying those abroad are “calling [Lebanon] good and giving [us aid for taking in refugees], but after a while we’ll have to go to them and start begging like refugees.”
He also said Lebanon is still committed to its policy of dissociation from the Syria conflict.
But he noted that the opening of the Nassib border crossing was a positive development, saying, “It’s purely to serve Lebanon’s interest.”
As Aoun’s term enters its third year, many of the key points he has promised remain unfulfilled, such as solutions to the water, garbage and electricity crises; to Lebanon’s soaring public debt; and to the flailing economy.
At the same time, his first two years saw the ratification of a new vote law and subsequent parliamentary elections. Furthermore, Parliament was able to pass a budget in 2017, after a 12-year delay, and ratified many other vital laws.