Lebanon is going through the most devastating economic and financial crisis of its 100-year history – the Lebanese pound is losing value at an alarming rate, while inequality continues to grow, leaving about 50 percent or more of the population at risk of falling below the poverty line.
The diagnosis is clear and has been clear for years: To regain confidence in the currency and to stabilize the economy, Lebanon requires structural and sectoral reforms, and requires them urgently. There is no easy way out this time. Political and financial leaders must act boldly to enact the necessary reforms. Together, they must agree on the diagnosis and on the treatment, and they must administer the latter – quickly.
Years into the economic crisis, and with Lebanese people losing their jobs, their savings and most importantly their hope, it is distressing to see that we remain only at step one of this process, and that promotion of narrow interests continues.
Now is the time for decisions and policies to be based on facts and to be taken in the national interest. State institutions, with the help of international organizations and academic institutions, should be collecting and sharing data to inform sound policymaking through transparent and consultative processes. Without transparency, there can be no informed democratic participation and no accountability. A Parliament that is open to the public and transparent about the voting behavior of its parliamentarians is critical to building trust and strengthening democracy.
Now is the time for inclusive leadership. The involvement of Lebanon’s civil society, and the presence of more women and youth at decision-making tables, are crucial to ensure good decisions. Seeking out a diversity of viewpoints will mean that the population is better represented, which will rebuild trust over time. We encourage Lebanese leaders to break down barriers between state institutions and the people they are meant to serve.
Now is the time to start preparing for the next elections. Lebanese citizens need to make the most of democratic institutions, to push their representatives to focus on the issues that matter to them. The right to protest is a cornerstone of democracy and protests are a first step in demanding change. To make that change sustainable, time and energy must also be invested in democratic processes. The space for freedom of expression and for free press, which Lebanon is renowned for, should be protected throughout these processes.
Difficult years lie ahead for Lebanon, but this crisis is an opportunity to reboot a broken system that is not delivering for the Lebanese people. During these difficult years, it is the responsibility of Lebanon’s leaders to protect the most vulnerable. We urge them to embrace much-needed reforms and to support the Lebanese in their aspirations for a more accountable, inclusive and democratic country. Canada, Norway and Switzerland will continue to support a better Lebanon for all Lebanese.
Published as Commentary in The Daily Star newspaper on July 4, 2020