Lebanon ministers face pay cut


Lebanon’s cabinet is expected to approve reforms including halving ministers’ wages in a bid to ease an economic crisis and defuse protests against the ruling elite.

Protesters blocked roads for a fifth day of demonstrations fuelled by crippling economic conditions and anger at perceived corruption of the political elite that led Lebanon into the crisis.

Officials told Reuters Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri agreed a package of reforms with his government partners to tackle the crisis that has driven hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets.

In central Beirut, scene of the largest protest, people prepared for another day of demonstrations.

“If we get reforms, for a start it’s good to calm down the storms, people are angry, but in the long term, I don’t know if it will make a change,” said Rida Jammoul, football coach, helping to clean up in Beirut.

Another protester, Ziad Abou Chakra, said he would continue to protest until government was toppled. “We will stay here and we won’t open the roads whatever happens,” he said, manning a road block in the Zouk Mikhael area north of Beriut.

The reform plan includes a 50% cut in salaries of current and former presidents, ministers and lawmakers, as well as reductions in benefits for state institutions and officials.

It also includes the central bank and private banks contributing $3.3 billion to achieve a “near zero deficit” for the 2020 budget.

Government aims to privatise the telecommunications sector and overhaul the costly and crumbling electricity sector, one of the biggest strains on Lebanon’s depleted finances.

Hariri, who leads a coalition cabinet mired in sectarian and political rivalries, gave his feuding government a 72-hour deadline to agree reforms to ward off crisis, hinting he might resign.

A chorus of voices, from union leaders to politicians, joined calls for Hariri’s government to resign.

Protests spread across the country since Thursday. Banks were closed on Monday and the main labour union went on strike, threatening further paralysis.

“The message to politicians is don’t underestimate the power of the people because once they unite they will explode – peacefully,” said Hiba Dandachli, a social entrepreneur helping to organise the clean-up.

“There are children, families, from different religions and backgrounds,” she said. “If the politicians learn from this they will learn how to lead the country much better.”