Over the past couple of weeks, the Lebanese government has devised two ways with which it will be taking away the hard-earned money of Lebanese everywhere: new taxes and new traffic fines.
In absolute value, taxes and fines are not always bad news. My uncle in California was telling me how the state voted to actually increase sales tax because the extra revenue would go into infrastructure enhancement. But that’s California, and we’re in Lebanon where the government is currently convening to vote on a budget for the first time in 12 years when the deadline for the electoral law they’ve been slacking off about for the past 8 years is in 2 days. This is to say that while Lebanon is a pretty country, its governance is shit. This isn’t a matter of debate.
It comes as a surprise, therefore, that there’s current talks about increasing the tax on alcohol over 500%. While the initial tax is super low (60 liras on beer) and therefore a 500% increase is not that significant (300 lira is still okay), it’s the idea behind the tax increase that matters here: where will the money go and what’s the point of it?
The tax increase in question will have even worse effects on those who sell it, with repercussions on the consumer, and it comes at an odd time given the rising anti-alcohol sentiment in certain Hezbollah-controlled areas.
Yes, alcohol is a luxury item, and luxury items should be taxed, but there’s a degree of accountability to trace how our tax money goes and if it’s going to good use. As far as the Lebanese way goes, I’d say that extra 500% on alcohol would go towards more chopper rides for Gebran Bassil and friends. That’s how our tax money is used, ladies and gentlemen: to allow our politicians to enjoy their lifestyles and maintain them as high as possible. Isn’t it ironic, therefore, that there’s actual tax increase discussions when parliament and the government low-key passed increases in compensation for families of past MPs. Moreover, let’s not pretend this is to improve the health of the Lebanese populace. If they cared they’d have taxed cigarettes but those are not religiously controversial items.
The other new added source of income for the government is with them installing red-light enforcement cameras across the Greater Beirut area. How those cameras work is as follows: when you reach a red light, you’re supposed to stop. YES, THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Anyway, when you stop at that red light you’re supposed to stop BEFORE the pedestrian crosswalk because those stripes in the middle of the road are supposed to be used by, you know, pedestrians crossing the road. The current state of the country is not like this at all.
I’m all for extra traffic fines in the country. Lord knows our driving is horrendous and needs as much measures for it to be improved as possible, but how can you improve driving through negative reinforcement when the notion of what you are trying to reinforce has never been taught in the first place? As in, Lebanese drivers are not taught how to obey traffic laws in the first place so how are they to be aware that they’re supposed to stop before a crosswalk?
Our driving tests go as follows: you show up after having paid that astronomical $300+ fee, with whatever you paid extra for that wasta, you do that computer exam about street signs and are helped by whoever is present there because they just want to be done with it, and then go do your practical test which involves you parallel parking and then going in reverse in a manual-transmission car which has been modified so much that to drive it, you don’t even have to use the pedal.
So how can you expect drivers whose only experience with actual “official” driving is that corrupt and silly to suddenly be aware of rules that are strictly applied in countries that have way more detailed and elaborate driving tests?
This is most obvious with the fact that with a trial run of the new cameras, they collected fines every 8 seconds. But I digress.
The question is: how am I supposed to stop at a crosswalk if I can’t even see the crosswalk in the first place? How much actual investment from the fines that are already incurred has gone into the roads around Beirut to make sure that, say, those roads are up to standard you want to put the drivers to?
Have all those parking fines they’ve been collecting since enforcing the paid parking system around Beirut improved our sidewalks? No. Did it improve our roads? No. Did the speeding tickets they’ve been collecting for ages now, with increasing values since that new law they passed, contribute to better roads and infrastructure? No.
So where the hell is all the money going? No one knows.
Does our government know that there are more rules for “civilized” driving around Beirut that have to be applied as well, such as, at the top of my head, enforcing the fact that the direction of lanes (as in lanes with a left arrow or lanes with straight arrows, etc..) should be obeyed could cut down on so much traffic, as in when someone from the right lane decides they want to go to the left and cuts off the entire left lane in doing so?
The problem with such new measures, whether new taxes or new fines, is that they’re always half-assed and poorly thought out. They’re never the first step in actually improving the system to begin with and always come at a cost to us as citizens. You want to put on cameras to make sure people stop properly at red lights? How about you make sure those people can properly drive in the first place by making sure our driving test process isn’t a joke and that the roads they’re supposed to drive on are up to far? You want people to pay more taxes on alcohol? How about you make sure the alcohol in the market is up to par?
In short, you want us to pay more taxes and fines, you have to pay up first in services and improvement. And to be honest, at the rate we’re going, that’s not asking for much.