Merchants seek president election to boost ailing conditions as economic tribulations soar in Lebanon

Mon 26 Sep 2016 at 21:01 Reports and Hot Files

NNA - Translated by Rabab Husseini


As the presidential vacuum seems to last longer, the Lebanese are now seen struggling to win their daily bread, especially that national economy is progressively deteriorating, not to mention the blatant absence of any effective role by the state, and the tremendous rise in the number of Syrians who fled the war next door and got displaced into Lebanon.

All of this only adds to the sharp drop of the purchase power of Lebanese citizens, and the lack of controls over the chaotic concurrence imposed by the massive presence of Syrians.

Minister of Economy, Alain Hakim, told the National News Agency that the concerned ministries ought to keep tabs on the influx and transactions of Syrians, so that their contribution to national economy should be controlled.

"Lebanon is suffering from enormous economic, social, and financial problems, that are all mainly due to the political rift in the country, which has in turn led to the current presidential vacuum, and disruption of both the government and the Parliament," Hakim explained.

"Crisis in Syria has proven how influential it could be on Lebanon's political and security stability, as well as on national economy," he continued, stressing on ailing growth, held back by the aftermath of the crisis which left tourism, foreign investment, and commerce drastically collapsing.

"This impact has actually sapped the Lebanese entity; every national economy indicator has dropped, especially in terms of investment and consumption," he said, reminding that there hasn't been any approved state budget since 2005. "This caused public debt to hike above USD 70 billion in 2015."

Hakim went on to say that the feeble purchase power was due to towering unemployment rates and drop of revenues.

"The economic system in Lebanon is liberal but, at the same time, it lacks a code of concurrence that is necessary to regulate relations among merchants and to secure proper competitiveness," he explained.

Tackling solutions, Hakim highlighted the necessity to curb the reverberations of Syrian newcomers onto the Lebanese markets, especially that refugees who venture into their own business do not register their institutions before the Ministry of Finance, and their workers are not enrolled in the national social security system.

For his part, Head of Beirut Merchants Association, Nicolas Chammas, described the current economic situation as "very bad," remarking that the sector of commerce has been the most vulnerable ever since the eruption of war next door.

Chammas argued that the absence of tourists and expatriates was behind the weakened purchase power, not failing to note the repercussions of foreign workforce.

"Unfortunately, the majority of displaced Syrians have financial setbacks, especially that Syrian financiers have headed to Turkey, Egypt, and the Gulf, and only few of them stayed in Lebanon," he told.

"This reality has created fierce competition between them and local merchants and businessmen, because Syrian merchants do not pay taxes or social security fees," he indicated.

Echoing Chammas, Head of Jounieh Merchants Association, Roger Keiruz, mainly blamed the presence of Syrians for the ailing economy in Lebanon.

But he also made it clear that the economic situation was the reflection of the political and security juncture.

In Aley, Head of the merchants association, Samir Shehayyeb, indicated that trade activities were mostly affected by the phenomenon of shopping malls nationwide, noting that 85% of Lebanon's economy actually relies on small businesses that cannot compete with the malls.

He also revealed that Aley merchants were preparing for a huge festival, expected to take place next spring, in an attempt to boost the region's economy, urging for the election of a new president.

Things are less dramatic in Beirut's vivid region of Hamra, whose merchants' head, Zouheir Itani, described the current economic condition as the worst in 57 years!

"The reason behind the poor purchase power and the ailing economic situation is the absence of tourists, investments, and foreign revenues coming from Lebanese migrants," he said.

But Itani indicated that Hamra did not witness any concurrence by Syrian financiers, even though many Syrians made it through the restaurants business in the region.

"The meetings of merchants and the economic committees are futile; the sole solution is the election of a president of the republic, the endorsement of an election law, and the return of the constitutional life," he concluded.

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