The government of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has decided to purge the administration of surplus employees as part of a major plan to redress the country's sluggish economy.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi was quoted in the press Friday, March 9, as saying the government, after a marathon session of more than five hours late Thursday, has launched a wide administrative reform.
Government ministries and institutions have two months to draft lists of their surplus employees, similarly to a procedure undertaken a few weeks ago by the information ministry.
Hundreds of employees at the national news agency ANI, the state television Tele-Liban and the information ministry itself have already been laid off or transferred to the Civil Service Council for reassignment.
"The principal objective is the reduction of public expenses and the rationalization of work in artificially-bloated administrations," said the French-language L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper.
According to a proposal by Hariri and President Emile Lahoud, the finance minister was asked to submit a draft bill reducing remunerations of former presidents, ministers and deputies by about 25 percent.
The government also studied the case of the national carrier Middle East Airlines, ahead of plans to privatize it. The company has only nine airplanes, but a 4,200-strong staff. Government sources said the goal is to cut the carrier's workforce by 1,200 employees.
Since 1996, the state has had to spend $400 million to keep MEA from going under, according to figures put forward at the cabinet session and published Friday.
The Hariri government faces a public debt of $25 billion, or 147 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Servicing the debt alone accounts for 44 percent of the national budget for 2001, which foresees a deficit of $3.3 billion.
Hariri has also informed the cabinet of the talks he held on February 27 in Paris with European and international institutions to reduce the interest rates on Lebanon's debt.
Lebanon had secured an aid package of €500 million ($465 million) at the Paris meeting. A second similar meeting was soon expected to be held with Lebanon's partners.
Hariri had told AFP that the Lebanese government was on the right road toward staving off financial ruin and turning the economy around, mainly with administrative reform and privatizations.
At the cabinet session, Lahoud expressed confidence at the government's economic revitalization plan, asserting that it would be welcomed by all the Lebanese.
Lahoud, Hariri and House Speaker Nabih Berri were expected to meet over lunch on Friday in what the media viewed as a symbolic gesture to mark a consensus of the three leaders over the economic revival program. — (AFP, Beirut)
by Pascal Mallet
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)