Anti-tax protesters gear up for weekend demonstrations

Expectations are high for the number of people participating in Sunday's protest due to a flurry of activity active by Lebanese citizens on social media

18 March 2017 | 11:52

Source: Annahar

  • By Nour Ghoussaini
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 18 March 2017 | 11:52

Quickly forming protest on Thursday night after Parliament actions on taxes.

BEIRUT: Civil movements are readying to hit the streets Sunday noon in an official protest against the newly approved tax hikes; protests will be held in Riad El Solh Square in downtown Beirut with participation from various parties from across the political spectrum, in coordination with civil society groups and activists.

Lebanon's parliament passed Thursday a new batch of tax measures but failed to enact a public wage hike that the sweeping majority of lawmakers had claimed was the reason behind the need to introduce new taxes in the first place.

Major political parties say the new tax measures are "necessary" to fund an estimated $800 million increase in public salaries.

Leader of the Kataeb Party, MP Sami Gemayel, highlighted Friday during a press conference that "corruption in the Customs department cost the treasury at least 700 million dollars." "Restricting such an illegitimate expenditure by itself is enough to fund most of the salary scale without having to impose any taxes on the Lebanese people," Gemayel added.

Many of the Lebanese civil movements and political parties share a common stand with Gemayel, and expectations are high for the number of people participating in Sunday's protest due to a flurry of activity by Lebanese citizens on social media outlets through dynamic posts and trending hashtags.

The newly established political party Sabaa intends to join the protest on Sunday with demands from a somewhat different perspective.

"We highly support the protest against the tax hike, yet our concern regarding this issue isn't technical, it's political," said Assaad Doueihy, one of the co-founders of Sabaa Party, during a phone call with Annahar.

Doueihy argues that a parliament which has extended its own term twice lacks the legitimacy and jurisdiction to enact taxes.

The government has already adjourned parliamentary elections twice, citing security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. In 2013, lawmakers voted to extend parliament's term by 17 months and then voted again in 2014 to extend their tenure an additional two years and seven months.

"The only declaration the illegitimate self-extended parliament should agree upon is a new electoral law based on proportional representation so that the Lebanese people can practice their democratic rights, nothing more," Doueihy said.

Former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud tweeted, in a similar point of view, that under Article 81 of the Lebanese Constitution, no taxes shall be imposed or collected in the Lebanese Republic except by a comprehensive law which shall apply to the entire territory without exception.

Baroud also explained that the current self-extended illegitimate parliament is in no legal position to declare new tax hikes.

On a related note, the Lebanese Communist Party will be rallying, a day prior to Sunday's protest, in a similar sit-in in front of Banque Du Liban, located in Hamra, to shed light on substitute solutions to fund the salary scale without elevating tax charges on Lebanese citizens.

"One of the most major substitute solutions is increasing taxes on bank-earnings from the new financial swap applied by Banque Du Liban," said Arabi Al Andary, member of the Lebanese Communist Party.

According to the Association of Banks (ABL), Lebanon's bank owes $850 million in corporate income tax generated by the swap operations carried out with the Central Bank last year.

That along with $322 million in corporate income tax for the year 2016 on all operations, excluding the gains on swap operations, dividend taxes by respective Bank shareholders will hit almost $56 million, thus raising the consolidated taxation payment by banks an shareholders to $1.23 billion.

In a statement, ABL said the tax on the swap operations alone would balance the $796 million needed to pay for the salary scale increase cited in the State's 2017 draft budget.

A source at the Internal Security Forces said that "no special measures are set yet for Sunday's protest, but our main duties are ensuring the safety of protesters and protecting public and private property."

"This is a solid proof that the 2015 movement did not die" expressed Sara Bou Kamel, core team member of the You Stink campaign, "everyday the government unfolds new corrupted and unjust decisions towards the Lebanese people, and we're not leaving before it stops!"

Bou Kamel highlighted that "people are hitting the streets once again not only because of the taxes, it's more like an accumulated struggle."

Georges Azar, member of We Want Accountability campaign, told Annahar that "coordination and communication weaknesses that campaigns suffered during the garbage crisis protests are now improved and enhanced."

"It is normal and expected to find various demands and perspectives of different groups and parties, even within the same protest, yet now our campaigns and demands are communicated and coordinated in order to have a stronger impact," Azar added.

Several protests, of different demands, are scheduled Saturday and Sunday, in addition to a relatively humble sit-in held Friday in Riad El Solh Square that was intended to "keep the protest movement in the streets until Sunday," Kataeb's Deputy Secretary-General Patrick Richa told Annahar.

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