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File photo: French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the need for reforms and slammed the manner in which matters in the country were being handled, called for a new system in Lebanon Aug 7, 2020

By MARTIN JAY

The blueprint might be too ambitious, but there is a plan B which offers a swift recovery of the economy and cracks down on corruption – if Macron has the courage to put a French stamp on it.

Days after the Beirut port explosion, I wrote, perhaps ominously, that we should expect more “explosions” as the current leadership of Lebanon is so out of its depth on governance, that more chaos is only to be expected.

When the diehard remnants of a corrupt regime scramble over bodies to stay in power for the sole objective of waiting for the next aid bailout, then even those who work in government ministries and who are not corrupt, lose hope and barely make any effort to do their jobs. 

Anyone who has wasted a whole day ringing a government switchboard number of a ministry in Beirut will tell you that. No one picks up.

This could explain a second huge fire in Beirut port. Another accident of a failed state. Some Lebanese though believe it was created to burn critical evidence relating to the port explosion. 

The initial explosion which grabbed the world’s headlines on August 4 was probably due to negligence on a massive scale on all levels, which combined, killed over 190 people and left a repair bill of around $15 billion. 

This is an unfortunate but entirely expected by-product of benighted corruption in a country ruled by a kleptocratic class.

This is Lebanon’s problem. The warlords who were supposed to hand over power slowly after 1990, just used their positions to take more control of the government and all its entrails – as well as the private sector today. 

The flaw in Macron’s original plan

But how to organise a bloodless revolution which replaces government ministers from the same ruling elite or, for that matter, bring in clean MPs who have not bribed their way into the system?

Some say it cannot happen as there is no incentive for the elite to move aside and let others govern. And here’s the crux of Emmanuel Macron’s problem. His own blueprint is based on a fatal flaw: it works with the present elite and hopes they will stop corrupt practices and convert.

But a bold new blueprint drafted by a British qualified lawyer of Lebanese origin and a Lebanese engineer may have the answer: create a state within a state which bypasses the old guard and runs these key sectors, allowing them to be profitable again.

Towards the end of September Rafic Koussa and Marc Oufi will meet with France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, where they will present their plan which already has the backing of the French ambassador in Beirut and they claim two key French ministers.

The draft proposal aims to initially raise a modest $5 billion from US banks which will be pumped into these key sectors, which France will supervise but not own. 

The crux of the blueprint should be a no-brainer for Macron as part of the proposal, which asks for not even one euro from the French state, allows French companies to clean up on reconstruction contracts worth up to $15 billion, according to the draft proposal which I have already obtained and read. 

In the electricity sector alone, a French Giant, GE Alstom, is expected to be given up to a $5 billion contract to build gas turbines.

Of course other parts of the plan are harder to grasp and more complicated. Part of the blueprint also includes using US intelligence agencies and private sector operators similar to Blackwater to hunt down the billions removed from Lebanon, either from decades back or more recently when the October 17 protests started. 

The plan also includes a new political set up of leaders who have a proven track record of not being part of the wholesale embezzlement which has been going on for decades in Lebanon.

The pair hope to meet the French foreign minister in Paris on the week beginning September 21, in an open and frank discussion which will likely include two key advisors to Macron.

Completely French 

Critics may argue that the plan Macron already drafted includes a lot of what is in the blueprint from the two lawyers. Even in what Macron wants to do in the electricity sector mentions gas turbine generators which, presumably, if he makes his plan as international as possible – even including the UN – will not favour French companies necessarily.

But the Koussa-Oufi plan goes the extra mile and makes the overture completely French. They both believe this is the key to getting Lebanon’s books back in the black and nailing corruption. 

Making a ‘Macron Plan’ a real plan from the French President which gives an imperative, if not central role to France, in not only setting up the key sectors for a total overhaul but sticking around and supervising them.

Macron’s original plan, leaked to the press, is more ambitious politically. It includes overseeing a number of key appointments and an audit of the central bank. It also wants new laws adopted on public procurement and public financing which will all come up against stiff opposition when Hezbollah digs its heels in and uses US sanctions as a premise to not accept the plan. 

And even if they did, doesn’t Macron know that the Lebanese are adept at adopting laws but not implementing them?

Perhaps then, Macron will be forced to adopt then the model from the two Lebanese lawyers which rather than reforming or cleaning up the present corrupt elite (which will be near impossible), it takes a much more pragmatic and realistic approach and bypasses them altogether, creating a state-within-a-state in the key sectors which takes control and acts as executors of the loans from US banks. 

The idea simply is to encourage the elite to abandon governance on the basis that it no longer pays and there is nothing there to loot. And that these new sectors can reap taxes for the first time through profits and can set a benchmark against, say, the port and other sectors which have only drained the country while supporting militias, rather than provide valuable resources to state coffers.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

Martin Jay is an award-winning British journalist based in Beirut who has worked for a number of international media titles including CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera as well as reporting on a freelance basis for the UK’s Daily Mail, The Sunday Times plus TRT World.

TRT WORLD

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