BEIRUT: Not long after graduating from the American University of Beirut as the valedictorian of her class, Hazar Caracalla began her journey in economic policy.
She had previously worked with late Minister Basil Fuleihan and as the advisor to the executive director for Arab countries at the International Monetary Fund.
Twenty years later, Caracalla is currently the economic advisor to Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Her previous experiences and current job description proved Caracalla to be one of the leading women on economic policy formulation and reform implementation in the Lebanese government.
Caracalla’s work involves advancing Lebanon's economic reform agenda amidst mountain economic and social challenges that were compounded over the past years by the repercussions from regional turmoil.
NAYA met Caracalla at the Grand Serail for an insight onto her experience in government, her journey juggling her work and household, and on CEDRE and the Lebanese economy.
Q: What can you tell us about your academic background? How did you come about your current position?
A: I completed both my undergraduate and graduate studies in economics at the American University of Beirut. My experience at AUB was very enriching and I was very active in the student life: I was the year book editor in chief in 1997 and the valedictorian in the year 1999.
One of my professors, and a mentor of mine, Basil Fuleihan, offered me my first job - and that’s how it all started.
After his passing in 2005, I left Lebanon and joined the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC where I worked as the advisor to the executive director for Arab countries.
Then after in 2009, I decided to gather the knowledge I learned at the IMF and join the economic team of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Q: The most recent parliamentary election had the highest number of women candidates and there was an increase in number of female ministers, why do you believe this happened?
A: This is a clear indication that we are heading in the right direction, but surely, we can do more.
Of course the recent increase in number of women MPs and ministers is mainly because political leaders have decided to put women candidates on ballots.
We still have a long way to go, but this also needs a change in mentality and culture on both sides of society.
Women need to be more engaged in politics, they need to speak up more often, run for municipal councils and parliament, and vote. Also, men need to believe that appointing and electing women to official public positions will be rewarding as women can and will deliver and excel at that.
On the economic front, women make up more than 50 percent of society so if we don’t have women on board it’s a loss in value added, a loss in productivity, and a loss in GDP. Thus, in order to have a society operating at full potential we need to have everybody on board.
Q: Throughout your field of work, you’ve met many influential people, who intrigued you the most and why?
A: On the global level, Chancellor Angela Merkel would be my pick. I met the chancellor twice.
Although you would assume that this remarkable leader is an iron woman, she is actually very modest and humble. Getting to see the humane side of her increased my respect and admiration of her leadership.
In Lebanon, I cannot but express my admiration to my friend and long time colleague, the Minister of Interior and Municipalities Raya El Hassan. She is setting an example and paving the way for young women to be able to break the glass ceiling, especially in the public sector.
Q: What do you believe are current priorities and obstacles in the current government?
A: The top priorities of the current government are to address mounting economic and social challenges, jumpstart growth, reduce the fiscal deficits, enhance governance and transparency in our system, and enforce the rule of law.
This is key to regain the confidence of the Lebanese citizens as well as domestic and foreign investors. We cannot continue to do business the old way. The Lebanese citizens want to see a change and some reforms take time to materialize.
Q: There has been ongoing criticism of Lebanon’s current economic situation, stating it as dire. Do you think this is true or it is part of the natural economic cycle?
A: Economic and social challenges are real, and have been compounded by the crisis in Syria and the resulting displaced crisis.
They range from high level of unemployment, especially among the youth, low growth, high levels of poverty, high fiscal deficit and debt to GDP ratios, depleted infrastructure, and poor public services.
That said, populist rhetoric often deviates the debate from the real issues. Communicating and debating economic policies should be rooted in facts and figures.
At the CEDRE conference, the Lebanese Government presented a comprehensive vision aimed at jumpstarting growth and creating employment in a stable and sound macroeconomic environment. The international community welcomed and supported this vision through a pledge of more than 11 Billion USD in concessional financing.
Q: Could you tell us more about this vision to ameliorate Lebanon’s economic standing?
A: CEDRE is our vision for Lebanon over the next 8 years; a vision for stabilization, economic growth, modern strong institutions, and higher productivity and prosperity.
It will also help position Lebanon as a reconstruction hub in the region when conditions permit.
The CEDRE vision aims at: providing Lebanese citizens and businesses with a state of the art infrastructure through the implementation of a multi-year capital investment program in the energy, transport, telecommunication, solid-waste, and water sectors; embarking on important structural and sectoral reforms to improve transparency and governance in our system, modernize our legislations, institutions and procedures; unleashing the potential of our productive sectors to diversify sources of growth and employment and increase Lebanon's export potential; and preserving macro stability through fiscal consolidation and the 2019 budget is a good first in this direction and the effort needs to be sustained in 2020 and beyond.
The four pillars of CEDRE are mutually reinforcing and we need to advance on all four tracks in parallel in order to be able to take the Lebanese economy to new levels.
Q: What do you think would a good method to explain to common citizens economic policies and decision rationales – especially in your position?
A: Communication is essential, and we need to admit that this is lacking sometimes. We often hear a negative rhetoric that is not based on facts and figures, and this rhetoric often undermines the government policies and reform efforts.
It is therefore important to communicate economic and social policies in a clear, credible, and transparent manner, based on facts and figures.
*This Q&A was edited for clarity and coherence
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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