Let’s start with the Good. Four women were selected, finally inching ever so slightly to full political participation, at 13% of the cabinet. Not nearly 50%, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, at moving in the right direction. Also, some superstars, like Nada Boustani, a feisty, ambitious young lady, who doesn’t take crap from anyone, and precisely the type of new blood we need to reform the system — the right person, in the right job. Raya el Hassan, as Interior Minister, at long last, giving women a meaty ministry, instead of the usual meaningless “Big Hat, No Cattle” positions women got as a consolation prize in past cabinets. Last, but not least, they finally had an epiphany, giving women the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, so they can finally be in charge of furthering their own interests, instead of giving it to another guy. Perhaps, they read my article Mabrouk.
The Bad. Thirty ministers in a tiny country with a population of 4.5 million people. The United States of America, the richest, most powerful country in the world, has 15 ministries — a country 374 times Lebanon by GDP, which on that basis, would entitle us to 0.04 ministers. The excessive number of ministers, and the eight months it took to form this underwhelming government is the quintessential manifestation of the diagnosis and prognosis of what needs to happen in the country ... immediately. Clearly, we need more than 0.04 ministers, but the country’s size certainly doesn’t rate having more than ten ministers, a cut of 67%, and just about proportional to the right size the public sector should be, to cut our budget deficit and curtail our strangling debt.
But who’s going to be the minister who makes that call? Eight months to come up with this government. Does anyone think we have the time to take this long in making the major mandatory and urgent reform decisions that prevent the country from falling off a cliff?
Of course, the other glaring problem in the composition of the government, is that they haven’t selected experts in their fields in several ministries. There’s so much Lebanese talent all over the world, working in top management consulting firms, economists, bankers, businessmen and women, technology experts, many involved with success stories, like Dubai, the Gulf, the United States, and Europe. Thus, was it really necessary, in the crunch we’re in, to select some of the names that are more qualified in representing their political party or sect, rather than possessing expertise in the industry most closely aligned with their ministry?
And now the Ugly.
They abolished the Ministry of Human Rights and that of Anti-Corruption. Did the last government eradicate corruption or does this reflect the lower prioritization of those “minor” problems?
This brings us to the structural problems. A friend of mine, who was a minister in the last government, told me that he had no hiring or firing power. If he wanted to bring an expert in, he had to pay out of his own pocket or find someone willing to work for free. In many ways, the ministerial position reminds me of the old BBC TV comedy, Yes, Minister, in which a permanent government bureaucrat says the following:
“Minister, the traditional allocation of executive responsibilities has always been so determined as to liberate the ministerial incumbent from the administrative minutiae by devolving the managerial functions to those whose experience and qualifications have better formed them for the performance of such humble offices, thereby releasing their political overlords for the more onerous duties and profound deliberations which are the inevitable concomitant of their exalted position.”
In other words, the minister’s job is to go on TV and give interviews, hopefully not saying something dumb, that causes more damage than his lack of action, which, mind you, is sometimes preferable, if you’ve been tracking some of the stuff that happened in the last few weeks.
Thus, unless something revolutionary takes place, the bureaucrats in each ministry, who in some cases, are the crux of the problem, actually run the show.
Good luck, Lebanon.
Dan Azzi is a regular contributor to Annahar. He has recently been invited to be an Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow at Harvard University, a program for senior executives to leverage their experience and apply it to a problem with social impact. Dan’s research focus at Harvard will be economic and political reform in a hypothetical small country riddled with corruption and negligence. Previously, he was the Chairman and CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Lebanon
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