Lebanon’s new prime minister seeks “quick fixes” to help the country

In his first interview with an international media outlet since the formation of a government a week ago, Mikati admitted that some Lebanese would find it difficult to trust him and his government after so many politicians failed them in the pass.

But, he told CNN, it is “time to have a government” to make decisions and end the political vacuum in the country, before the elections scheduled for next May.

“I do the quick, the quick fixes that (must) be done immediately, including energy, health, education, work and transparency, and show the Lebanese that there is governance. transparency. This is what we are and I hope it will take, “he said. He did not specify how he would make these corrections.

Mikati, a billionaire who served as interim prime minister in 2005 and 2011, heads a cabinet that will preside over an economic depression that the World Bank considers one of the worst in the world since the mid-19th century.

And while there are new faces in government, many have been handpicked by the same political establishment and groups blamed for the corruption that led to the country’s economic collapse.

One of the most pressing economic problems facing the new government is the country’s costly subsidy program.

The Lebanese government raised oil prices by more than 37% on Friday, as the country continues to remove subsidies on imports in a bid to attract international monetary aid.

The move is expected to raise prices for the Lebanese, who are already grappling with soaring poverty levels.

But according to Mikati, some 74% of the more than $ 10 billion in grants have been “misused by traders, by corrupt people” in Lebanon over the past year – and the program is unsustainable.

“The subsidies are almost gone because we have no more money or reserves to subsidize oil or other commodities,” Mikati told CNN. “We will keep the subsidies on drugs, but the subsidies on other products will be removed.”

It is important to end the subsidies to start negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the international community, Mikati said.

The Central Bank of Lebanon issued a statement last month saying the fuel subsidies were exploited by companies. About $ 800 million was paid in import subsidies in July alone, but fuel shortages were still rampant.

Mikati: Hezbollah cannot be bypassed

Lebanon has spent 13 months without a fully formed government since former Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after a deadly explosion ravaged the port of Beirut last year.

He now needs the support of the Arab world, Mikati said.

One year after Beirut explosion, survivors still mourn, still angry and still await justice

“Lebanon is a very small country in the Arab world, and we are looking for the big brother of all the Arab countries to come and take our hand, and take Lebanon. [out] of this mess, ”Mikati said. “A stable Lebanon will benefit the entire Arab world.

Asked about the presence of Hezbollah allies in his government, Mikati said: “Hezbollah as a political party exists in Lebanon … I cannot get around this party.

Arab countries have yet to call Mikati since his government was formed last week, but he remains optimistic and believes he will receive “a positive response,” Mikati said.

The prime minister added that he had received calls from members of the US administration over the past week, all of whom supported his government, but US President Joe Biden had not called him.

On Thursday, Hezbollah marched tankers full of Iranian fuel into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in defiance of US sanctions. However, Mikati said the fuel shipment was not approved by the Lebanese government.

“The Lebanese government did not approve this (…) so I don’t think the Lebanese government would be subject to sanctions,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than a year after the port explosion, many questions remain unanswered about what led to the tragedy.

Mikati reiterated that he is calling for an international investigation into the blast. “I can’t say who, but there is definitely someone to blame,” he said.

CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi contributed to this report.

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