The Beirut Traders Association warned that the economy was at risk of collapse
Beirut – Georges Chahine
Lebanon’s Economic Association said Tuesday sales had plummeted across the country over the past two months and warned that the Lebanese economy could collapse if the government failed to
shore up security.
Headed by former prime minister Adnan Al-Kassar, the association held an emergency meeting in the presence of the Minister of Industry Vrej Sabonjian where they discussed the latest internal political and security developments.
“The problems facing production are due to the stagnation in the market for several months now, and the means to protect and save what remains of the national economy within view of the continued deterioration of the security situation in all Lebanese territories in addition to discussing the increased upper limit under social security fees”.
The committees also urged all political parties to rally behind the Lebanese army in a bid to clamp down on all security violators, particularly those blocking major roads.
Leading economic figures and the head of the Economic Association warned of the “consequences of the continuation of the security breakdown” and saw the “current incidents that move between the north, Beirut, and Bekaa” as “badly harming the reputation of the country which we call with all of its security agencies to practice firmness.”
“Economic conditions have been deteriorating since the beginning of the year, and we have seen trade activity plunge by 50 percent over the past two months [year-on-year],” Beirut Traders Association chief Nicolas Chammas said in a news conference Tuesday.
“The Lebanese economy has entered into an [appalling situation] since mid-August because of the security situation and the state of lawlessness,” he added.
Following a meeting of the group, which also gathered representatives of various trade associations, Chammas warned that merchants would take escalatory measures, including a nationwide protest and strikes, if officials failed to put an end to the worsening security situation.
“We will take steps starting with a cautionary strike and ending with civil disobedience following Pope [Benedict XVI]’s visit to Lebanon,” Chammas said, slamming the government for failing to impose the rule of law.
In a separate meeting, economic committees echoed the traders association, warning that a massive decline in tourism and deteriorating security conditions had devastated the economy.
The committees also reiterated that the private sector would only accept raising the cap to LL2 million on income subject to National Social Security Fund fees.
The NSSF has requested that the ceiling on income subject to fees be increased to LL2.5 million to enable the Fund to hike hospitalisation fees paid to private hospitals.
Private hospitals have threatened to turn away NSSF patients starting September 1 unless the Fund pays the agreed-upon higher fees for overnight stays.
A statement released by the economic committees also lobbied in favour of operating a second commercial airport in north Lebanon’s Kuliat airbase that is currently used by the military.
“It would allow for socioeconomic development in north Lebanon and [boost] air transport and charter flights,” it said.
The gathering also called on all security committees to act firmly “to improve Lebanon’s image abroad due to the negative impacts left by the deteriorated security on the national economy and mainly the commercial and tourism sectors. The percentage of tourists decreased in a horrifying extent causing the failure of the tourist season which economic, commercial, and hotel institutions relied on to make up for some losses suffered in the past months.”
The statement also slammed increases in public expenditures “at a time when restricting expenses and decreasing squandering are needed”.
The total value of exports plummeted 21 percent in the second quarter of 2012 compared to the same period last year, customs data shows.
The economic committees said they would monitor developments and take appropriate decisions meant to preserve the national economy, promote growth, and follow the execution of economic and financial reforms.