Experts call for long-term solutions amid nationwide protests over subsidy cuts in Lebanon

The General Confederation of Lebanese Workers called on Wednesday for nationwide protests to be held one week later to demonstrate against the central bank’s decision to lift subsidies on basic life items including food, fuel and medicines.

The Lebanese central bank started implementing its decision by removing the subsidy on flour on Tuesday.

The move has been met with protests among citizens who are suffering from a sharp hike in prices of goods given the shortage in U.S. dollar currency used to import products.

On Tuesday, UN officials expressed fear that the subsidy cuts will cause havoc in the country if no alternative plan such as creating a safety net is made before the removal of the subsidy.

This has prompted Lebanese authorities to convene on Tuesday to try and come up with a new scheme to rationalize subsidies in a way that would have the least impact on citizens.

One of the very urgent proposals made by Lebanese authorities is the issuance of special cards with limited amounts of money to help around 600,000 needy families.

Mounir Younes, an economist and former editor in chief of Al Qabas Kuwaiti newspaper, told Xinhua that the money used to finance these cards comes from the state’s budget or the central bank which will print more money and lead to a further increase in inflation.

“Special cards are only beneficial if the government adopts a mechanism to control prices in the country which is impossible in Lebanon due to absence of a proper team who can achieve this,” Younes said.

“We need a more comprehensive and long-term solution to secure not only food, medicines and fuel but also education for people in private schools, otherwise we will witness a social explosion,” he said.

Ali Saad, an analyst and economic writer, said that the Lebanese authorities should have rationalized subsidies one year earlier before reaching the current collapse.

Saad expects the government to gradually lift subsidies while keeping only support for medicines to prevent people from protesting.

Nasser Yassin, a professor of policy and planning at the American University of Beirut, told Xinhua that these special cards can be used to support people for a short period of time but a long-term solution is needed.

“We should have comprehensive plans for the most vulnerable to support them on all levels including food, medicines, fuel, education and social security for the elderly,” he said.