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Economist says Lebanon is doomed unless it restructures

Economist says Lebanon is doomed unless it restructures - nonsectarian grouping needed to bring in reforms - The Daily Star

'Paris II' successes 'only bought time for 2003' as country still in need of changes.

Lebanon's economy will be doomed unless a nonsectarian grouping breaks through to force officials to adopt political and economic reform, a leading economist said Wednesday.

"What this country needs is not a 'Paris I' or a 'Paris II,'" economist Kamal Hamdan told the Lebanese Council of Women in an open lecture held Wednesday.

"We need a national bloc able to supersede sectarianism and avail itself of all political affiliations." Hamdan said the Paris II donor meeting held in the last quarter of 2002 may have fetched Lebanon a $4.3 billion aid package, but it is only buying politicians time in 2003 to avoid "a catastrophic scenario" that was in the making in mid-2002.

Hamdan, a proponent of the five-year economic program of the former government of Salim Hoss, urged citizens to demand a change in political and economic policies.
"This political menagerie continues to use the public sector as fodder to amass illicit wealth," he said. "This might have appeared classy in the 1960s, but nowadays such practices know no limits."

He said politicians cannot afford to turn a blind eye toward real political and economic reform, whose absence widened the gap between the rich and the poor in the 1950s up to the eve of the civil war - a trend, he said, that was repeating itself now. "Politicians in the 1990s thought a bit of security, a bit of infrastructure and a hell of a lot of taxes could promote growth," he said."This is a relic of the past: In the 1950s through the 1970s we achieved high economic growth, but poverty persisted."

Political reform should come first, he said, followed by an economic program overhauling current policies that are persecuting the poor, but leaving the rich untouched."These reforms can only be carried out by those who pay the price for crises," said Hamdan, adding not a single public penny should be wasted or given to leverage political classes. He said current unemployment levels in Lebanon are at least around 13 percent, "a figure that can bring down governments in Europe."

Only half of the 40,000 new entrants to the job market in Lebanon every year manage to get a job, and three-quarters of those who are hired receive minimum wages."Some 80 percent of state revenue is collected from the downtrodden," he said.

Beirut,02 24 2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star
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