Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that “those who were against the CEDRE conference suddenly considered it the solution”, adding in a chat with journalists at the Center House: “If it is the solution, why didn’t we implement it and why weren’t the reforms applied?”
Asked about Minister Gebran Bassil’s invitation to a dialogue under the patronage of the Maronite Patriarch or the Presidency of the Republic, Hariri said: “He focused on Christians only, and I do not know if he knows that there are Muslims in the country. If we each focus on the rights of one community, the rights of the Christians or the rights of Muslims, the rights of all Lebanese will be lost because of this mentality”.
He added: “We are facing a very difficult reality in the country. Today there are negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, but so far the results are not clear. Those who were against the CEDRE conference suddenly considered it the solution. If it is the solution, why didn’t we implement it and why weren’t the reforms implemented? Ambassador Pierre Duquesne said yesterday that all the reforms of CEDRE should be approved together, and that is what we were saying a year or two ago. The problem is that we are the country that loves to miss opportunities. Instead of applying CEDRE two years ago, we waited for the calamity to happen. Rather than bringing us 11 billion dollars, CEDRE has been reduced to 8 billion and I do not know how. No one spoke to the Council of Development and Reconstruction that should have been present at yesterday’s meeting. The government’s plan was not presented to the CDR, knowing that it prepared all the projects that were approved in CEDRE by the World Bank. How does the government do this without contacting to the competent authority for implementation?
They criticize the CDR for its performance, so why did they block the nomination of new experts in the council? The government should carry out the required reforms, we tried to do that, but the problem with the government is that each of them says something different from the other”.
Question: Gebran Bassil denies responsibility and blames others. He says that the electricity problem has existed since 1994.
Hariri: It is true, the problem has existed since 1992 as well and since 1988 and since the bombing of Beirut, if we were to go back in history. The issue is not who places responsibility on who, there are facts. There is a political movement that has been handling the Ministry of Energy and cost the Treasury $ 45 billion. They want to blame the banks and depositors? No. There were plans that had to be implemented and a board and a regulatory body had to be appointed, why were they not appointed? We went to CEDRE two years ago and said that this is the government’s plan to save Lebanon. When we returned to Lebanon, we found that every party only wants to do what it wants.
Question: Today they support CEDRE. Who was obstructing it in the past, and why has the image changed today?
Hariri: Those who obstructed CEDRE are the ones who were against reforms. To be clear, what are the reforms? I challenge anyone to say what the reforms are. We proposed that we borrow money, our duty to reduce the deficit in our budgets, we suggested that in 2020 and 2021 we increase the value-added tax by 1%. We were working with the International Monetary Fund on the steps that must be taken in order to address the fiscal deficit, and we agreed with them, and all of that is written in CEDRE. I do not want to go back to the one who obstructed, we got here, but if you want to do something, do it right. Do not say one thing and then do something else, then someone says that he restored the rights of Christians. Do I say that I want to restore the rights of Muslims? Can every one speak in this logic in the country? We are all Lebanese. Otherwise, let us abandon the Lebanese passport, let each of us carry the Bible or the Qur’an, and let each one of us be Sunni, Shiite, Druze or Christian, but not Lebanese. Is this a responsible way to speak?”
About the attack against “political Harirism”, Hariri said: “Do you want to prosecute Rafic Hariri in his grave and prosecute Saad Hariri? What do you want? We are not against prosecutions, we want the corrupt to be imprisoned, but we do not want the corrupt to imprison the innocent”.
Question: How do you see the current negotiations between the government and the IMF?
Hariri: First, thank God that the government was finally convinced that it was necessary to resort to the International Monetary Fund to assist the country. The discussions started now and needs time and focus and we have to be realistic. The problem today in the country is that we place all the blame on the Central Bank and the banks while in reality, the state is the one that has borrowed the 90 billion, so who are they fooling?
Question: Are the figures provided by the government correct?
Hariri: Ask the International Monetary Fund.
Question: At a time when Prime Minister Hassan Diab seeks to contact the ambassadors, we saw them at the Center House. Does this mean that countries such as Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Kuwait, which were fundamental in supporting Lebanon previously, are still not convinced by the Diab government?
Hariri: The problem is in the approach. Today we cannot resort to the implementation of CEDRE and then antagonize the Gulf states, the international community or the Europeans. You know that the responsibility for this lies partly on Hezbollah, but there is also a part that falls on another political team “who is humiliating the Lebanese” in front of the international community, which is the Free Patriotic Movement. Therefore, if we want people to help us, we must first help ourselves by applying what we are saying and building relationships with these countries in order to work with them. If we want others to help us, we must first help ourselves and implement what we are saying, and build relations with these countries so that we can cooperate with them.
Question: Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah saw in his latest speech a deadlock with the IMF, and that no one would help us, especially in light of the corona pandemic, and that we must resort to the markets of Syria and Iraq
Hariri: Why? Because these systems are economically perfect? Is it possible to be serious with these words? Yes we were benefiting from the Iraqi market, just as the Syrian market is important when there is a real state.
Question: What about the trilateral alliance that was beginning to form between the Future movement, the Socialist Party, and the Lebanese Forces?
Hariri: There are no alliances now.
Question: Is Saad Hariri alone today?
Hariri: Saad Hariri is not alone, nor is Walid Jumblatt, nor Samir Geagea, nor Sami Gemayel, nor the revolutionaries. There is a crisis in the country that we should all participate in solving, in a new way, as we cannot continue to antagonize the whole world. Lebanon should follow a new way to be able to reach the safe shore, and if there are certain parties that are not convinced of this, they will bear the responsibility for the collapse.
Question: In your previous government, the file of smuggling to Syria was opened and then closed, as there was no political decision to put an end to it, and today it has been reopened again. Shouldn’t you be blamed for this, especially since you were at the head of the government then?
Hariri: True, I was prime minister and I was unable to close the border because the interests of the Syrians and those working with them were bigger than me and you know them well.
There are parties that operate within this framework, among which is Hezbollah, and Lebanese merchants benefit from this to smuggle fuel oil, food, and other things. We tried previously more than once and now let us hope that they might be able to stop smuggling.
Question: Hezbollah is not really defending Gebran Bassil, and some believe that this is in your interest. Why do you attack Hezbollah and say that you were unable to control the borders because there is a party stronger than you?
Hariri: This is true, but where did I attack Hezbollah in my words? I said I could not stop it.
Question: You receive Arab and European ambassadors, so what do they tell you about CEDRE, which you launched?
Hariri: Through CEDRE, I exercised my convictions and saw that it was the way to save Lebanon. The problem is that every political team in Lebanon only cares about its interests, and the reason for my losses is that I do not care about myself but about the country while the other parties want to carry out reform in their own way, and this is not possible, for reform must include all of us. Therefore, the Gulf countries view this government differently than they view mine because of the trust factor.
Question: Does the international community view your previous government differently than it views the government of Prime Minister Diab?
Hariri: I do not know, ask them.
Question: Do the Gulf countries trust this government?
Hariri: There is a big political problem between the Gulf states and some parties in the region. This appears in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other countries, and it certainly affects Lebanon.
Question: Yesterday MP Nohad Al-Machnouk was reaching out to you by defending you
Hariri: I do not want to comment on extending the hand because I think that I was the one who extended my hand to everyone and I was working with all good intentions to bring the country to the safety shore. Now they are in the government, they should do so. If they cannot do it they should say so, and if they do not have the means, they should say so too.
Question: What is your comment on the recent press conference of Minister Suleiman Frangieh?
Hariri: People consider Minister Suleiman Frangieh a sincere man. When he is with Syria, for example, he says so publicly, he is sincere and always gives this impression and everything he said in the press conference is believed by people.
Hariri received this evening at the Center House the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, and held an Iftar in his honor. They discussed the general situation in the country from various aspects.
Source: National News Agency