One-third of the minimum wage
It was in 2014 that Robert Fadel - then an independent member of parliament for Tripoli and a member of the March 14 coalition- first presented his bill to the Lebanese Parliament. Afaal recommended monthly financial assistance equivalent to one third of the minimum wage (150 USD) to each Lebanese family living below the threshold of extreme poverty, currently estimated in Lebanon to stand at 5.70 US dollars per day per person, according to the World Bank. This assistance would become available if the family addressed two prerequisites: the schooling of the family’s children, and the registration of the family’s main financial provider in vocational training (or a trade apprenticeship).
Supported by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Robert Fadel's proposal was adopted by the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Labor and Social Affairs, and by a Subcommittee on Finance and Budget. But that proposal never made its way to Parliament. This setback caused Mr. Fadel to resign in 2016. In doing so, he wanted to protest against the lack of reform, the endlessly crawling corruption, as well as the lack of confessional diversity within Tripoli’s city council. He specifically refused "to remain the accomplice of a political class who refused to change the system" as he explained to L'Orient-Le Jour.
"We tend to forget how close poverty is to all of us," says Robert Fadel. "I grew up in this very poor city that I represented. I realize that poverty is not only a human problem, but a real time bomb," insists the former MP, who denounces "the politic of denial of the Lebanese State ".
His "attachment" to this bill is much stronger now that "poverty is more serious than it was in 2014". "We are entering a very serious crisis," he says. “Some families living under precarious conditions need to be assisted. And I am no longer alone. I am now a member of a political party that will carry on this project."
Reactivating this bill along with some amendments is indeed the primary objective of this strong national bloc composed of active members of civil society.
Investing in education and human capital
"The human being is at the heart of our values,” confirms the political coordinator of the LNB, Amine Issa. “We estimate that given the current economic situation, more than 235,000 citizens live in unacceptable conditions. It is therefore urgent to save them from this situation of extreme poverty."
And while it is difficult to identify the poorest families in Lebanon according to their income, because many of them work in the underground economy, "other criteria are today likely to determine the socio-economic level of the citizens” observes Issa. "Among the criteria taken into account are the quality of housing, the house’s safety, the number of habitable rooms, the accessibility of drinking water, the sewers, electricity, access to heating, the schooling of children," says the LNB's political coordinator, specifying that in order to carry out this work, teams from the Ministry of Social Affairs generally visit the inhabitants of underprivileged neighborhoods.
Given this reality, "the Afaal bill needs to be amended soon in order to be able to allow an extra fifty dollars per child for families with more than three children, and to take into account single-parent families, and cases of illness or invalidity of the family’s main provider," notes Amine Issa. "As for the financing of the initiative, it will be included in the budget and will not be dependent on foreign aid," he promises, estimating "the total cost of the application of such a law at $ 110 million a year." Asked about the feasibility of the project in a period of financial crisis, he says: "I created a list of savings that can be matched to different budgeted positions." "There is so much corruption and mismanagement that it is easy to make cuts," he says.
Given all the above, the Lebanese National Bloc is inviting the authorities "to start investing in human capital and education, rather than perpetuating clientelism," and recalls that, according to statistics, "more than half of poor children leave school as teenagers, around the ages of 14-15." Not only do they have "no professional qualifications, but they often suffer from poor or inadequate nutrition, which creates a high risk of diseases," says Amine Issa.
On October 16, Afaal's positive impact will be at the heart of a massive campaign by the Lebanese National Bloc campaign spanning approximately two-and-a-half months. The campaign is aimed at educating citizens and parliamentarians about the urgency of providing assistance to a population of 235,000 to 300,000 of the poorest and neediest people, in Tripoli and in the north, in Saida, Jezzine, Baalbeck, Hermel, but also in some parts of the capital.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 15th of October)
Last February, the Lebanese National Bloc (LNB) was revived and back on the political scene, and has committed to work and push for a constitutional state. On Wednesday, the Bloc launched its first campaign to fight against extreme poverty in Lebanon. The political party of the late Raymond Edde hopes to raise public awareness and mobilize parliamentarians, before submitting a bill to Parliament...