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April 02, 2019
The Government Monitor No. 2: The First Government Meetings Address Few Structural Changes

What is the issue at hand?
Since the parliament passed a vote of confidence in mid-February, the newly appointed Council of Ministers (COM) has held three sessions, during which 210* agenda items were discussed. Although the government committed to reform measures in its ministerial statement, few relevant matters were discussed during the first three sessions.

Of the total agenda items, only 13 (6%) are regulatory measures that entail a change in existing policies or institutional procedures; 24 (12%) concern the approval of international agreements such as foreign loans, foreign grants, and memorandums of understanding (MoUs); and 173 (82%) are of an administrative nature, meaning actions taken by the government pursuant to existing rules and procedures.
The thirteen regulatory agenda items address five sectors:  
  • Five fiscal measures, which include adopting the twelfth rule in light of the absence of a budget, issuing foreign currency treasury bills, extending the employment of temporary public employees, determining the annual fees of the temporary use of public maritime properties, and amending the implementation decrees regarding the VAT law
  • Two economic measures addressing protection policies for local products (such as pasta, flour, bulgar wheat, wafer biscuits, and cleaning products) and the management of quarries
  • Two education measures, one which would allow foreign students (including Syrians) who studied abroad to apply for official Lebanese exams, and another that would determine the implementation decrees pertaining to the law covering International Baccalaureate equivalence to the Lebanese Baccalaureate for national students
  • Two security measures that relate to extending UNIFIL’s mandate for another year and authorizing the interior minister to approve municipalities and municipal unions’ use of temporary police and security guards
  • Two energy-related measures which include the draft petroleum law and the electricity policy paper.

International Agreements
Of the 24 agenda items pertaining to international agreements, 20 are equally divided among approvals of foreign grants and loans with the European Union, World Bank, European Investment Bank, and French Development Agency, among others, for several sectors including water and sanitation, transport, and economic development. Four are related to agreements and MoUs related to security and development.  
As for 173 items that are classified as administrative, one-third pertain to official international visit requests by various ministries and state agencies and 28% pertain to accepting in-kind contributions—mostly to state security agencies—such as vehicles, medical equipment, and machinery from 13 domestic institutions and 21 individuals, and 11 from foreign governments and international organizations. Other items address activities related to human resource management (such as determining or processing compensations, appointments, or resignations), processing financial transfers to public institutions (such as Electricité du Liban, National Social Security Fund , and other institutions), covering healthcare costs for individual patients, processing diplomatic requests (including permissions to cross borders or trade weapons), and managing contractual arrangements. Items categorized as “other” include matters of ministerial bureaucratic affairs, temporary archaeological exchanges, product promotion, and procurement.

Why is this important?
The government must tackle key issues that it committed to addressing in its ministerial statement as well as the pledges the previous government made at CEDRE. Three items that will signal its willingness and ability to undertake reform concern the electricity and oil and gas sectors (which it has begun discussing) and the budget, which should be capped in order to control the deficit.
As such, it is important to monitor and understand advancements related to key policy and reform measures that address the government’s commitments and the country’s structural challenges.

The government gained the vote of confidence on 15 February 2019 based on a ministerial statement, in which the COM committed to addressing important governance challenges to improve public services and ensure financial sustainability.
The government has also made pledges to international donors to undertake reforms committed to at the CEDRE conference, which was held on 6 April 2018.

*The three cabinet meetings were held on 21 February (with 102 item on the agenda), 28 February (52), and 21 March 2019 (59).  Note that one agenda item was repeated twice in the first agenda (items number 41 and 42). Moreover, two agenda items were postponed from the first session and taken up in the second session. Additionally, one agenda item in the second was postponed and taken up in the third session.

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