Lebanon News

New ministers promise ambitious reforms

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni and former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil attend a handover ceremony at the ministry in Beirut, Jan. 23, 2020. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Nine ministers in Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s new 20-member Cabinet were sworn in Thursday, beginning their tenures with promises of ambitious reform. Lebanon’s worsening economic crisis featured in many ministers’ inaugural speeches as the top priority for their ministry’s work.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said the first step for his ministry was to ensure that Lebanese had their basic needs met. In recent months, dollar shortages have threatened the supply of essential goods such as fuel, medicine and wheat. In the longer term, he aims to develop and implement a plan to build a “productive and sustainable” economy.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said that the “entire international community has its eye” on the new government and is waiting to see the reforms it would enact. Wazni, an adviser to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, told The Daily Star Wednesday that the Cabinet would seek up to $5 billion in loans to purchase the essential imports under threat.

For Industry Ministry Imad Hoballah, his sector will be a “core pillar” of driving Lebanon’s economic recovery, saying he would work closely with the Association of Industrialists to increase productivity.

Investment in and development of infrastructure could also be a solution to the economic crisis, Public Works Minister Michel Najjar said.

As anti-government protests turn increasingly violent, eyes have turned to new Interior Minister Mohammad Fahmi, part of whose mandate is to oversee the Internal Security Forces.

His predecessor Raya El Hassan had come under fire for the aggressive response of the ISF’s riot police to protesters, hundreds of whom have been injured in the last week alone.

Fahmi, a former Brigadier General in the Lebanese Army, vowed that security forces “will make every effort to protect the rights of demonstrators.” Nevertheless, he said that attacks on security forces were unacceptable.

Other ministers also committed to radical reforms.

Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm Kobeh said this would be one of her “primary goals” and that she would do “everything necessary to boost the independence of the judiciary, its transparency and effectiveness.”

Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad Najd spoke of the importance of improving laws governing all forms of media.

“I will work to turn the Information Ministry into a beacon of freedom that will protect and defend [media] freedoms,” she said. Lebanon ranked 101 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2019 survey of press freedoms.

Youth and Sports Minister Varti Ohanian promised to work responsibly and transparently to “enhance young people’s confidence by developing a plan that responds to their demands.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 24, 2020, on page 2.

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