Many articles, including the Ii Monthly leader in this issue, have discussed the difficulties of attaining the 2003 forecast deficit of 24.8%, as well as the inaccuracy of the numbers and the methods employed to reach this figure.

A review of the actual budget figures since 1994 indicates that the deficit was always greater than the forecasted figures. The problem, however, goes beyond numbers and governments, to the heart of the Lebanese system, and indeed, society. Is the system working or is it defunct? Can the Lebanese ‘way of life’ continue and is it sustainable?

We often refer, and perhaps sarcastically so, to previous studies and suggestions since the Irfid mission in the sixties was rumored to have insinuated that Lebanon should not be working, but it is, so the country should continue to do whatever it is doing.

Of course, this has not been the latest advice from the IMF and other organizations. The fact is that the ‘Lebanese system’ was able to function in the fifties and sixties due to geo-political developments and the Cold War, as well as economic factors (oil and banking) that are no longer applicable. It functioned inefficiently then, and now it is functioning suicidally. To put it simply, the Lebanese ‘way of life’ cannot be subsidized any longer.

We cannot continue to hire civil servants on a confessional and ‘clientelist’ basis, with the number now reaching 240,000 civil and military personnel (including retirees). We cannot continue without public transport, with over one million private cars and 900,000 mobile lines, untaxed interest income on $26 billion worth of Lebanese treasury bonds in all currencies, untaxed deposits amounting to $40 billion, and most of all, we cannot continue with a shady political system which reinforces itself through legislation, such as the electoral and media laws.

This tacit alliance between citizens and politicians against the state, which is governed by socio-political norms whereby no one is answerable to the law except the impoverished, is economically unsustainable, and cannot be broken without a cultural awakening and the necessary political will. If not, the drain will continue under all governments and the country will continue to survive on a crisis management basis, until a disaster ensues, of the likes of the civil wars of 1958 and 1975.

The problem is not in the numbers or in the government only, it is within us.

Jawad Adra