Prime Minister of Lebanon

Prime Minister of Lebanon

On 19 December 2019, Professor Hassan Diab was appointed prime minister after gaining the support of 69 out of 128 members of parliament (MPs). He succeeded Saad Hariri who resigned on 29 October following the nationwide protests that swept the country. On 21 January 2020, Professor Diab completed the formation of his cabinet of 20 ministers. On 11 February, his government gained the Lebanese parliament’s vote of confidence, receiving the votes of 63 out of 84 MPs that had completed the quorum. In a speech preceding the vote, Professor Diab described his cabinet members as a team of experts that want to work in the service of the Lebanese people. He also framed his government as one eager to take on the national duty of rescuing the country from its plight. However, the government took on its role during one of the most difficult times of Lebanon’s history in addition to the acute political divisions, later exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, in the wake of the Beirut port explosion, Professor Diab announced the resignation of his cabinet on 10 August 2020. He and his ministers are currently functioning in the capacity of a caretaker government.


REFORMS

Dr. Diab’s government introduced a number of reforms that include:

  • Setting in place a forensic audit at the state level, starting with the central bank’s budget.
  • Approving the national anti-corruption strategy.
  • Drafting a bill aimed at lifting bank secrecy.
  • Reclaiming the telecom industry and preparing for global tender.
  • Finalizing laws related to the independence and organization of the judiciary.
  • Commencing with the stages of gas exploration in Lebanese waters.
  • Preparing a draft law to open an additional 1.2 trillion LBP credit line allocated to addressing the pandemic, which was approved by parliament but was not implemented by the Central Bank.
  • Appointing a new board of directors for the Electricity of Lebanon (EDL) after a fair selection and recruitment process.
  • Appointing the vice governors of the central bank, the Banking Control Commission of Lebanon (BCCL), and the government commissioner at the central bank.
  • Making critical administrative appointments.
  • Fighting smuggling across illegal border crossings.
  • Approving and overseeing a plan for the safe return of Syrian refugees to their home country.
  • Cancelling some of the state’s unnecessary building lease agreements.


DEBT DEFAULT

On 9 March 2020, the government defaulted on the payment of a $31 billion debt in the form of Eurobonds. Reasons for this include foreign currency reserves reaching an alarmingly low level in a country heavily dependent on foreign currency to conduct business and acquire basic necessities. PM Diab gave a speech on March 7 in anticipation of the default. He is often credited for acknowledging the gravity of the situation and for being direct in his assessment of it. In his address, he mentions, among other things, the need to restructure the debt and the banking sector, negotiate with creditors, and refigure the economic model that is based on borrowing and rentierism.  

The PM’s speech about the decision to default on the payment of Eurobonds (March 7):

 

ECONOMIC-FINANCIAL RESCUE PLAN

On 6 April 2020, an economic-financial rescue plan was presented before the Council of Ministers, which was approved that same month on April 30. The plan detailed enlisting the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), entering formal negotiations with creditors, and implementing overdue reforms. Set over a period of five years, the plan aimed to acquire over $10 billion in external financial support as well as CEDRE Conference funds. It also aimed to support the underprivileged sections of society and implement social programs. Other goals included restructuring Lebanon’s sovereign debt, distributing losses fairly, cutting public spending, and reducing the public debt to GDP ratio to under 100%.

PM Hassan Diab’s Address from the Grand Serail following the announcement of the economic-financial rescue plan (30 April 2020):

 

IMF

On 1 May 2020, PM Hassan Diab and Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni sent a signed request to the IMF asking for assistance. The government had approved an economic rescue plan the day before and wanted to refer to it during negotiations. The PM was hopeful going into talks with the IMF, however, negotiations were hindered by internal parties that took issue with the government plan. The plan was met with pushback from the central bank, the banking association, and MPs who disagreed with the government’s allocation of losses on the finance sector. On July 1, a parliamentary committee found the losses to be at around half the amount allocated by the government. The IMF, meanwhile, found the government’s figure of LL241 trillion to be the more accurate. Negotiations were further hindered when political parties resisted any meaningful reform suggested by the government to meet IMF standards and help lift the country out of crisis.

The PM's address on requesting IMF assistance for Lebanon (1 May 2020):

 

COVID-19

The virus that was first detected in Lebanon on 21 February 2020 was initially contained after the successful implementation of a nationwide lockdown on March 15. Meanwhile, the government worked on strengthening its ability to respond to the pandemic, mainly hospital readiness to accept new patients and the capacity to conduct more tests. In April, the government started repatriating Lebanese expats and distributed cash assistance to the poorest families via the Lebanese army. In May, the government began the gradual reopening of the country. On July 1, the country’s airport was reopened for commercial flights with measures like polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and quarantine put in place to contain the spread of the virus. Adherence to regulations during this time was lax and government resources limited, which led to spikes in case numbers.

The real turning point, however, was the Beirut port explosion on August 4. The government had been walking a thin line between economic crisis and public health crisis, but the explosion threw things off balance. The healthcare system took a serious hit and civilians disregarded regulations like social distancing to take to the streets, either in protest or to help with the cleanup and rebuilding of Beirut. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless, worsening the situation. The result was that the number of cases reached new high levels in August that continued to climb moving into September. Dr. Diab’s cabinet resigned in the aftermath of the explosion but continued to manage the pandemic in the capacity of a caretaker government.

In October, the caretaker government opted to target red zones, or specific areas, streets, and neighborhoods where positive cases were high. However, adherence was once again a problem and logistical issues arose. On November 14, Lebanon went into a nationwide lockdown. On 8 January 2021, Lebanon entered another phase of full lockdown after registering record-breaking cases of infection. In the meantime, the caretaker government procured vaccines for the population and has planned a vaccination strategy, also creating a digital pre-registration form for the vaccine. 

Open playlist with more information about the government's COVID-19 procedures and decisions:

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