The paralysis of the confessionally-plagued ECOSOC is to remain despite the need for it

Thu, 10/30/2014

The 1989 Taef agreement was supposed to lay the foundation for re-building the Lebanese state and its constitutional institutions, but, regretfully many of the clauses of that agreement , notably those focusing on reform, were never actually or effectively implemented.

One of such clauses concerns the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which was created in 2000 with the aim of strengthening democratic reforms within the state structures and social institutions through a wider participation in social and economic dialogue and in contributing to social economic policy by the various interest groups. Ten years after the Taef agreement was born, ECOSOC is virtually paralyzed and sidelined by opposing political and sectarian interferences.

To be noted that ECOSOC is formed of various stakeholders, among which the following categories:
1-Employers in the industrial, commercial, agricultural, banking, tourism, transportation, developers, insurance, private education and private hospitalization sectors; 2-Liberal professions; 3-Trade unions; 4-Cooperatives; 5-Social associations; 6-Prominent public figures nominated by cabinet decrees; 7-Representatives of Lebanese communities abroad.

Since it was first created by virtue of a decree on 30/1/1999, the ECOSOC General Assembly, which is composed of 71 members, elected Roger Nasnas as President. Nasnas’ mandate expired in 2002, yet, he still occupies the post as a chargé d’affaires.

When attempting to explain the paralysis of ECOSOC, Nasnas noted that the responsibility falls largely on all previous governments who decided to marginalize it. Some analysts noted that ever since the takeover of political life by the “troika” during the successive governments of former President Hrawi, ECOSOC was sidelined to the advantage of confessionally-motivated compromises. Others see in the aftermath of 2005 further factors which strengthened the power of confessional lords, paralyzed constitutional institutions, and undermined all possibility for social and economic dialogue.

There have been some recent, yet shy attempts, to pursue the goals of ECOSOC, including a recent meeting held in November by 4 civil society organizations which called for a resumption of social dialogue amongst various stakeholders in ECOSOC and that is in order to overcome the current general social and economic impasses.

Similarly, the former Mikati government also suggested the setting up of a parallel social and economic dialogue committee, which will be headed by the PM and with membership of a number of Ministers and the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, and employers, as a temporary substitute to ECOSOC.

For our part, we do not consider the scenario of creating a shadow council or of a new council, to be workable within the current general circumstances prevailing in the country. This is particularly so since they will undoubtedly include affiliates to the dominant political parties which are at the root of the current problems.

In closing, and looking beyond the present political context, the priority task remains to develop a common national vision on social and economic matters after overcoming the present political polarization, a task which looks very improbable as proven by recent developments concerning the new salary scale.