Monday, October 1, 2007

Confessions of a minister

This is the best interview I have seen of Sami Haddad, Lebanon's Minister of Economy and Trade. A real mine full of rare gems. It's a full page (in Arabic), so I'll have to summarize the main points for those who do not read Arabic:

The conversation starts with a debate about the consumer protection office, under his tutelage. I report here what he sys, with my comments in italics.

  • We have only 30 inspectors, 20 of whom will retire this year. This is not enough to control quality (of food and prices and other consumer products). The situation is not good, and we have no plans to improve it in the near future.
  • The bureau for protection of intellectual property also lacks personnel, although I see intellectual property as being sacred. But the state does not do anything about it, because it is weak.
  • I do not believe in setting a price ceiling and a maximum profit margin,because the investors will run away. Setting the price of bread at 1$ per bag will benefit the poor and the millionaire and will need to be financed from the state's coffer, or from the pockets of the poor themselves. so this is not the solution. (Of course not, in a country where rich and poor are taxed equally)
  • Prices are lower now than they were last year, but not those of: food, rent, water, electricity, gas, rent, health, transport and communication. (so what has gotten cheaper? diamonds and gold?)
  • I am opposed to protectionism. Only competition can reduce the prices. I have prepared a legislation for competition, but it will need a pricing committee, a quality control committee, a consumer protection office and financing. Then we will have a decrease in prices. (but none of these are available, so what do we do?)
  • Am I to blame if there are cartels in Lebanon? Am I going to solve Lebanon's economic problems? I wish I could. So what, there are only a few importers of wheat? So this is a cartel? So what do you want me to do about it? I don't know? resign?
  • I chose to subsidize more wheat than I believe is right (the extra subsidy goes into the pockets of the wheat cartel) in order to avoid problems. Yes I have used public money (the same one he was reluctant to use a few minutes ago), I bear full responsibility for that.
  • Bread prices have increased during your tenure as minister: I had to accept it because the bakeries threatened to go on strike. I'm not proud of it, and I broke head on this issue. (The real reason is that this government does not dare take any measure that will exacerbate the situation in which it already is: it only holds by the sectarian thread, but if they anger Capital, then they will be alone.)
  • There may be a monopoly in the gasoline trade, what can I do about that? I know nothing about this sector. (in reality, the gasoline cartel is split among the big politicians of this country, that's why he knows nothing about it. But everyone else does)
  • We are fixing the price of gasoline for social, political and for "security" reasons. (Ok so he's against fixing prices, but he's fixing the prices of bread and gasoline, for security reasons. His own.)
  • I will not raise the minimum wage, and I do not believe many citizens earn the minimum wage. The minimum wage is just a symbol. (Of what? of the exploitation of the poor by the rich?)
  • We need instead of increasing the minimum wage, to privatize electricity, communication, and Middle East Airlines.
  • I am opposed to the law on the protection of local production. This has nothing to do with whether I love Lebanon and I love its industry (a jibe at the late minister of industry Pierre Gemayyel who use the slogan "You love Lebanon? Love its industry!".)
  • If the costs of production are too high in Lebanon, let the Lebanese industrialists go to the Gulf or Egypt and invest there.
  • We have failed to build a nation and the current government has failed to produce any tangible results (oh no it has: it has paralyzed the country and obtained full support from the Israelis and the Bush government.)


D said...

'The actual state...has lost the ability to perform its core functions without the help of contractors. Its own equipment is out of date, and the best experts have fled to the private sector'. Sounds like LB but it's Naomi Klein on the transformation of the US and global economies under the influence of 'disaster capitalism' in which the state outsources its responsiblities to the private sector, effacing the citizen with the consumer. Interestingly, she cites the fact that '[d]uring the Israeli attachk on Lebanon in 2006, the US government initially tried to charge American citizens for the cost of their own evacuation....foreshawdow[ing] a collective futue of disaster apartheid, in which survival is determined primarily by one's ability to pay'.

The US and LB make a great pair.

bech said...

excellent post from beginning to end. you show very well how this guy through his own account admits that he has not done anything for the economy. Bass mish ma32oul shu we2e7!!

Anonymous said...

excellent post! I hope many people will read it and try to do something about it, like stopping Sami Haddad from destroying the socio-economic tissue of the country.

jacksonian said...

and you heard it here first! landandpeople. just the strongest blog covering issues of and about lebanon currently in existence. all above comments - the sheer interaction here - is testament to the fact that this site provides invaluable info -- and who else is thinking about Lebanon's agricultural sector-- no one....big ups!