New gas resources must benefit all Lebanese
While the drums of war are beating in many regions of the world, the peace that deserted the Middle East for so long has just burgeoned. The new agreement on their maritime border signed by Lebanon and Israel is an extraordinary step that cannot be overlooked.
French President Emmanuel Macron, like many other world leaders, has wished and hoped on several occasions for fundamental reforms in Lebanon, particularly in view of the rampant corruption that undermines the country.
The new prospect of exploiting offshore gas resources will attract greed. That is why I believe that, while respecting Lebanon’s sovereignty, its friends must take a bold initiative.
The major supporters (France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) should initiate discussions with the other donors to Lebanon on how to control these new revenues and the contracts that are already under negotiation. These discussions should take place in collaboration with the IMF and the World Bank, to ensure that future revenues serve only the Lebanese people.
Various conferences aimed at generating financial support have been a washout for the Lebanese people.The recent cases of customers storming banks to gain access to their own money are blatant proof of the dire circumstances they are living in. As happens when any patient is given essential fluids by transfusion, a massive new supply (of money in this case) may cause the fluids to go off course, away from the rightful recipients — the Lebanese people.
Let the new wealth serve the Lebanese people, not unscrupulous politicians. It is the duty of the international community to ensure this.
This time, let the people benefit directly. One could imagine an “energy fund for Lebanon” under international governance, reserving a place for associations in Lebanon that fight corruption. The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund is an interesting model, in a country noted for ethics and probity.
Now is the time to ensure full transparency in the negotiation of contracts, with greater parliamentary control.We must also be vigilant to prevent the conflicts of interest that mar political life (and not only in Lebanon), and prohibit those in charge of negotiations from having direct or indirect interests in future hydrocarbon operations.
Given the rampant corruption undermining Lebanon, the protests and demonstrations by Lebanese deprived even of their own money, the prosecution of those responsible for the Beirut port explosion reaching a dead end for the same corrupt reasons, and the many injustices that the Lebanese people have experienced, we would be guilty and complicit if we did not act by proposing an international protection mechanism.
The friends of Lebanon, like good fairies, lean with the best intentions above the cradle of this historic agreement. May this diplomatic miracle be a sign of renewed peace and prosperity in a region that has suffered so much. Let the new wealth serve the Lebanese people, not unscrupulous politicians. It is the duty of the international community to ensure this.
• Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy). Twitter: @senateur61