Lebanese Politicians Don’t Care About Increasing Taxes:  They Know We’re Voting For Them Anyway & We Won’t Budge As Long As WhatsApp & Arguileh Are Untouched 

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VAT is now 11%. Our parliament is blazing through approving the 22 new taxes and increases that I wrote about a few days ago. Check them out here (click).

Among the other taxes being passed are those affecting alcohol, numerous stamps which increase bill prices, etc.

Among what is remaining unchanged is the salaries and benefits that current and previous MPs and ministers receive, as well as the shitload of money they get from all the deals they make by being part of government. Hurray!

Things are so messed up in parliament that:

• We can’t know exactly what is taking place at the session discussing the tax increase because it is not recorded nor televized,
• We cannot know which MPs voted for which taxes because Samer Saadeh’s request to have that be made available was denied.

The system is so corrupt that our politicians can screw us over as citizens with tax increased while providing nothing in services rendered, making sure the infrastructure we have remains horrible, and our basic rights stripped away.

Have you ever wondered if our politicians pay taxes? Have you asked yourselves why aren’t Lebanese politicians seeking office required to show us their tax returns as is the case in other countries?

Have you ever wondered why our politicians are not required to declare about their conflict of interests going into office? They literally are “voted” into their seats and find themselves rolling in the deep riches, fueling their personal businesses from tax evasion to directing governmental tenders their way. The examples are endless.

And yet, despite this all the level of apathy remains at an all time level and it is across the board.

Our politicians don’t give a shit because we’ve allowed them to be as relaxed as they are. They’ve drowned us in garbage and gotten away with it. They’ve robbed us of our election rights two times, with the third on the way, and they’ve gotten away with it. They make us live in no electricity, horrible internet and barely any running water and get away with it. They threaten our lives with having their goons do whatever they want and run unchecked, and they get away with that too. Taxes are another manifestation, and they are getting away with it too.

Just look at any poll for the fictional upcoming parliamentary elections. The same MPs that are currently representing a given caza are those leading in any done poll. Christians are happy because “bay el kell” is now in charge. Sunnis are happy because Hariri is back. The Shia are happy because no one dares tell their parties off, and the Druze are the Druze.

The Lebanese people have gotten to a “don’t give a shit” point that tax increases don’t get the same level of attention as a sexist list of reasons why you should date them, or a one year old news about their capital’s food. It shows in how our students vote in university elections, how we voted in municipal elections, how it’s still easier for us to be upset online than to do anything about it.

If only they’d taxed WhatsApp and Shisha, then something would have happened.

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Lebanon’s Government Is Adding 22 Taxes To Fund The National Budget, Politicians Are Keeping Their Salaries & Benefits Unchanged

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Lebanon hasn’t had a national budget since 2005. That is our country has been run totally à la laisser faire for the past 12 years. And then comes 2017, when out of all years, our politicians decide they absolutely must pass a national budget when they should be passing an electoral law first.

Part of the national budget to be passed is the wage raise that has been demanded by multiple sectors of the workforce for years. It was promised to them a few years ago when the protests and strikes first began. And even though it’s been years since that promise was made, a huge portion of Lebanon’s workforce still didn’t get what was promised to it.

So in order to fund the wage increase, our government needs further sources of income which can only be through forcing more taxes on the Lebanese citizen. As reported by Lebanon 24, there will be 22 taxes to be added in the national budget of which these are the most prominent:

  1. Increasing VTA from 10% to 11%, which adds 300 billion LL in revenue,
  2. Increasing the price of stamps on phone bills to 2500LL lira which provides 60 billion LL in revenue,
  3. Increasing the price of stamps on judicial records from 2000LL to 4000LL which provides 1.2 billion LL.
  4. Increasing the price of stamps on receipts from 100LL to 250LL which provides 45 billion LL.
  5. Doubling the fees of public notaries, which adds 30 billion LL.
  6. Increasing taxes on cement production which adds 50 billion LL.
  7. Modifying taxes on income and revenues to add 60 billion LL.
  8. Increasing taxes on alcohol to add 60 billion LL.
  9. Adding a 1.5% tax on construction licenses to add 100 billion LL.
  10. Enforcing taxes on passengers leaving the country, whether through land or sea or air, to add 125 billion LL.

In fact, that last tax will also be proportional to your travel class. For anyone traveling more than 1250km to their final destination, a tax will be enforced as follows:

  • 75,000LL for every passenger in economy class,
  • 110,000LL for every passenger in business class,
  • 150,000LL for every passenger in first class,
  • 400,000LL for every passenger in a private plane.

Will that private plane tax apply to our politicians who use their private jets for transport? Let’s wait and see. In fact, how does it even make sense that an economy passenger is going to pay nearly the same tax as a person in business class and only half of the tax that a passenger in first class pays?

It seems even our travels, which cost us a lot more than they should in visa fees because of the horrendous state of our passports, are open season for our government to make it even more expensive and harder for us to leave. $50 is not a joke for frequent travelers or for anyone who had to save up everything that they could to afford ticket prices in a country where that very government has made sure the market is monopolized by one airline carrier.

In fact, while our government passes taxes left and right, on top of new traffic fines, to fund its budget, one thing remains constant, if not increasing: how much our politicians are benefitting from all of this.

Instead of looking inwards at current entities that are government-owned and which could end up generating a ton of money, the Lebanese government looked outward towards its citizens instead. A few weeks ago, MTV Lebanon reported on the current state of Beirut’s Duty free, from which the government only made $20 million over the past decade. The contract in question was with a company owned by a former prime minister. The potential money that the government could have made had the contract for the duty free been fair would’ve been more than what it will make because of the tax increases.

In fact, despite the government needing astronomical amounts of money to fund the wage increase, our politicians are not touching their wages and increases. When other countries such as Greece or Jordan faced similar economical predicaments, their politicians took a wage and benefits cut to help.

Meanwhile, in the land of the Cedars, this is how much money our politicians get in monthly salaries:

  • The president: monthly salary of 18,750,000 Lebanese Liras (LL) ($12,500) –> LL 225,000,000 $150,000 annually.
  • The parliamentary speaker and prime minister: LL 17,737,000 ($11,824) a month –> LL212,844,000 million – $141,896 annually.
  • Each minister: LL12,937,000 ($8,625) a month —> (LL212,844,000 – $103,496 annually).
  • Each MP: LL12,750,000 ($8,500) a month —> (LL153,000,000 – $102,000).

That means our parliament and government costs us $16 million per year in salaries alone. On top of that $16 million figure is a $12 million figure, at the most conservative of estimates, in benefits, for a total of $28 million.

The money waste for our politicians not to do their job doesn’t stop there. A former MP receives 50% of his salary AND benefits for life if he serves one term. If he serves two terms, he gets 60% of that figure for life, and 75% if he serves 3 terms are more. The money that that translates to is about $20 million yearly.

In summary, that’s almost $50 million yearly that we’re already paying for politicians who don’t want it to be affected in any way whatsoever, while they make life for every Lebanese harder than it already is. That money is untouchable.

Keep in mind that the $50 million figure does not include what they make through all the ways they can use their governmental clout to make money via their private business, starting from running governmental run agencies like Beirut Airport’s Duty Free, to many other things.

The state of Lebanese complacency is reaching all-time highs: politicians can rob us of our money, provide nothing in return, rob us of our right to vote because they’re incompetent, and still be sure they’re going to be voted in whenever they let the people vote again.

Read the full new tax law here.

When Lebanon Drowns In Garbage… Again

Lebanon Garbage Problem

If there’s one quality that can apply to Lebanese society and our form of governance, it’s that we always reactive rather than proactive, which is to say we never face a crisis looming on the horizon by driving off the road leading to it; we just continue driving until we fall off the cliff… and then we start searching for ways to build a parachute in the free fall.

This applies to so many things in the country: from presidential elections, to parliamentary elections, to the current garbage status. I can’t even believe we are discussing garbage, but here we are.

At a time when Sweden ran out of garbage and is looking to import some to produce energy (link), Lebanon will soon start piling up its garbage on the streets of Beirut and its other cities, because we have no place to dispose of them.

 

As a reminder, this was how things were last year:

The problem back then had one aspect: the residents of the country’s main landfill, Naameh, cut off the roads leading to the dump to protest the toxic effect of having such a facility close to where they lived: the place was supposed to be a temporary landfill for 6 years and hold a maximum of two million tons of waste; it has been in use for more than 17 and currently has more than 15 million tons.

Negotiations with residents at the time culminated in them stopping their protests and allowing Sukleen’s trucks to deposit garbage for a limited period of time – one that has now expired – as the government searches for other ways to address Lebanon’s garbage problem, which the government clearly did not do.

The problem today, however, is two-fold: the agreement with the residents of Naameh has run its course, and as such the roads to the Naameh landfill are closed once again. However, this time around, there isn’t anyone to collect the garbage in the first place because, as of July 17th, the government’s agreement with Sukleen had also expired. Hurray for efficiency.

As of now, you will see Sukleen employees sweeping the sidewalks, and picking up your dog poop if you live in Achrafieh, but they won’t be picking up your garbage. Brace yourself for the stench.

In numbers, this is Lebanon’s garbage status:

  • We produce 1.57 million tons of solid waste a year, with a 1.65% annual growth rate.
  • Per capita, we produce 1.1 tons of solid waste, this follows the regional average, but is far below that of developed countries (obviously).
  • 53 % of Lebanon’s solid waste goes to landfills.
  • 30 % is disposed in dumps.
  • 17 % is recycled or composted.

I don’t know how a government can be this clueless as to let this issue run its course twice in its lifetime, but they have. Not only is the country drowning in corruption, wastas and “you rub my back so I rub yours” mentalities, but you can now add literal garbage to the list… again.

This will not be fixed until some political hail Mary takes over and a band-aid is placed, once again. As I said, we don’t live in a country of a futuristic vision, but of temporary fixes. In a few days, when the sidewalks have garbage bags and not people, the outcry will prove deafening to our officials not to do anything. They will scramble to negotiate a new agreement with Sukleen. Then they will convince the residents of Naameh that the toxic fumes of 15 million tons of waste are not that bad, and we will pretend things are okay, until this repeats in a year or two or five.

Here are a few headlines on how to maybe address the issue from its core:

1 – Recycling:

In the short months that I lived in Lille and NYC, every single item of solid trash that I produced had to be sorted into different piles of trash, depending on whether that got recycled or whether it got composted. Papers went into one pile, cans went into another and the rest went into a dispenser.

Recycling will not only decrease the load that Lebanon’s landfills have to handle daily, but it will also make the country more environmentally conscious. The problem with this is that it needs a huge paradigm shift in how Lebanese look at their garbage. Will they do the effort to sort? I honestly doubt.

2 – Incinerators:

We have electricity issues. We also have garbage issues. Why not try to fix the former with the latter? Garbage incinerators that produce energy can help Lebanon’s ailing electricity sector.

The problem with the incinerators is that, when not properly maintained, they will produce immense levels of pollution and the maximum level at which they can handle waste is about 160 tons a day; for reference, the Naameh landfill, the country’s biggest, handles about 2800 tons a day.

The limited capacity of such incinerators means that many are required to have a dent in Lebanon’s garbage problem. The problem with them being as polluting as they are is that finding a location for them is probably harder than finding locations for new dumps or landfills. Moreover, we all know the government won’t bother making sure the incinerator plants are up to environmental qualifications.

3 – New Landfills:

I mean, really, why not? If recycling is too hard, and incinerators are too costly/polluting, then why not invest in new landfills in some remote, poorly-inhabited regions provided that such landfills be maintained and properly handled, which is to say that those landfills should not become lands filled with garbage, but rather lands where garbage is handled in environmental and scientifically decent ways, for a minute period of time, in a plan that spans several years in order not to fall into the same problem… again.

4 – Export It:

Instead of drowning in garbage, why not sell it? Sweden wants some. Norway wants some. I’m sure we can find an Arab country who’s willing to take it at a bargain. Why not just get rid of it? It’s not like we know what to do with it here.

5 – Tax It:

At a growth rate of 1.65% yearly, the garbage we produce will soon become too much for what we can handle anyway, even if temporary measures are placed. Why not have a tax on how much garbage a household can produce before they have to pay for the handling of whatever they’re producing? Such taxes can be made in such a way to fund environmentally friendly projects in the country.

Conclusion:

The country needs drastic measures to address the garbage issue. At a time when Sweden is importing trash because they’ve run out of it, it’s horrifying to think that a country such as Lebanon not only doesn’t have a place for its own trash, but literally has no idea how to handle it.

How many times should we drown in garbage before we learn that temporary fixes are not okay?

How many times should we drown in garbage before we learn that if those in power can’t handle our waste, then how can we entrust them with more pressing issues?

Welcome to the republic of garbage, taking it literally since 2014.

Taxing The Syrian Refugees

Self-imposed curfews were not enough for some municipalities in Lebanon when it comes to the growing presence of Syrians in the country and within their bounds.

Some are now considering the possibility of taxing those Syrians as well with amounts that are simply nonsensical for a poor refugee who can barely afford his or her rent: 100,000LL for just seeking residence inside the town.

The rationale behind these taxes is that these Syrians are treated like Lebanese citizens in those municipalities, by which they probably mean their garbage being collected occasionally. Except that those Syrians cannot even take out their garbage after 9 pm or a policeman would force them back to whichever door they came out from because they’re definitely up to no good if they’re walking the streets past their imposed “bedtime.”

I’m not against foreigners paying municipal taxes if municipalities are providing those foreigners, regardless of their nationalities, with the basic rights it’s providing to its voting citizens. I hardly think my and the potential tax money of Syrian refugees is going to any development. Municipalities are, more often than none, only a tool for political parties to flex their muscles every six years and for people not to get over it until the next election cycle rolls by.

However, are the Syrian foreigners – refugees or not – being treated the same as Lebanese citizens? I can already hear the laughter. At least I can make plans and go out past 9 pm. And isn’t the timing of said-taxes highly inappropriate, inhumane and downright despicable?

Municipalities, starting with mine, keep on coming up with ways to make the lives of people who don’t want to even be here a living hell. What’s their limit in tightening the noose on the Syrians who live within their jurisdiction when the perceived security threat of those Syrians is exaggerated to say the least? As long as mayors feel like they’re flexing their muscles and their citizens get a sense of fake-safety, anything goes.