MP Chamel Roukoz, formerly of the Lebanon Strong parliamentary bloc, has not yet decided whether he will take part in Tuesday’s contentious parliament session aimed at discussing the new government’s policy statement.
The meeting is scheduled to grant Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet the vote of confidence. Anti-government protesters are expected to mobilize and thwart the lawmakers from making it to parliament.
Lebanon has been rocked by protests since October 17 demanding a complete overhaul of a political class which is seen as inept, corrupt and motivated by personal gain. Many protesters have rejected the new cabinet and accuse the ruling elite of ignoring demands which include an independent government and an end to corruption.
“Diab’s government is not independent, but its ministers have political interests,” Roukoz remarked.
The MP said that the protesters were clear in saying they opposed Tuesday’s meeting, revealing that he enjoys contacts with the activists and communicates with them to take decisions.
Late last year, Roukoz, who is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, quit the Strong Lebanon bloc, headed by Aoun’s other son-in-law and former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
He criticized the new policy statement, saying it does not tackle pressing demands, such as the excessive spending of treasury funds, tax evasion, customs issues and illegal border crossings, all of which are a major burden on the state’s finances.
The government’s work and productivity will be tested when it addresses the electricity and telecommunications files, Roukoz told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Unfortunately, the policy statement did not offer a new approach on these issues and others, he remarked.
Addressing his relationship with Aoun, he described it as “normal and good”, saying he does not oppose the presidential term, but the government.
Governments, not individuals, should be held to account, he explained.
On his relations with Bassil and his Free Patriotic Movement, he said nothing new has developed in the ties.
He revealed that he does meet with his fellow MPs from the FPM, but at the end of the day “we each have our own views and opinions about issues.”
Turning to the general situation in Lebanon, Roukoz described it as “tragic and difficult on all levels.”
“We are on the verge of collapse. The situation will become more difficult if we do not receive foreign aid. This does not mean we should give up, but we should work on tackling our problems ourselves to save the people and country,” he stressed.
This can be done through living with the crisis and managing it properly, he suggested. “This can be achieved through regaining the people and the international community’s trust.”
Lebanon is facing the worst economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war, rooted in decades of state corruption and bad governance that have landed the country with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
Reflecting a hard currency shortage, commercial banks have gradually reduced the amount of dollars customers can withdraw since October. For most, the cap is now a few hundred dollars a week.
Roukoz said he was closely following the bank measures against depositors, saying most of them were “illegal and implemented randomly and selectively.”
He questioned the central bank and Association of Banks in Lebanon for seeking to adopt new measures that will impact the interests and deposits of the people.
The only legal authority that can address this issue is parliament in its capacity as representative of the people, declared Roukoz.
“Parliament is the right place to address the crisis through the urgent ratification of laws. The central bank, ministries and concerned agencies can then implement the parliament’s decisions,” he explained.
ASHAR AL AWSAT