Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Wednesday admitted that Lebanon is facing a difficult time as it is trying to reduce its deficit burden, adding that the 2019 budget that his government will approve will make sure not to harm anyone.
“All that is being said about cutting the civil servants' salaries is mere media talk; political outbidding will do no good because we will all fall if the country collapses,” Hariri told lawmakers during a Parliament session.
“We don't take pleasure in reducing salaries, but we have reached a point that compels drastic and unprecedented austere measures,” Hariri added.
Speaking to reporters following the session, the premier stressed that it is the duty of both the government and the Parliament to tell people the truth about the economic situation, describing it as "bad" amid a 1% growth.
“We won't harm people with a limited income; however, hard austerity measures are needed in order to preserve the salary scale,” he asserted.
“The most austere budget in Lebanon's history is required today because our situation doesn't allow more expenses,” he pointed out.
“I am not saying that we will cut the salaries of all employees, but we must be frank. Lebanon will collapse if we don't take hard steps,” he warned.
“No measures have been yet confirmed because we are still mulling all options which I assure it won't affect the poor."
The premier highlighted that austerity measures might be applied for only 2 or 3 years in order for things to return back to normal.
“Everyone keeps saying that corruption is rampant in the state institutions, then warn of reducing expenses,” he added.
The Parliament convened to discuss 18 items on its legislative agenda, notably the electricity plan approved by the government last week.
Speaker Nabih Berri renewed his call for the government to approve a new State budget as soon as possible, adding that a new administrative board for Electricite du Liban (EDL) must be appointed within no more than three months.
While the Parliament session was underway, civil servants, Lebanese University teachers and the Union Coordination Committee staged a sit-in at the nearby Riad Al-Solh Square to protest against the government's alleged plan to cut their salaries as part of austerity measures aimed at reducing the budget deficit.
“We are raising our voices because the government finds the public sector the easiest one to affect,” head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, Bechara Asmar, said during the protest.
“At this stage, we must have a unified position and we must stand together for our rights,” he added, noting that there are many reformist measures that the government must take without harming the people.
"From now on, they will see that public employees are no longer the weakest link."
Several public institutions observed a strike nationwide, including the state-run National News Agency which announced that it will only cover news related to this issue.