Paris, France: Lebanon’s leaders “owe their people the truth” about the massive blast that claimed hundreds of lives in Beirut last year, French President Emmanuel Macron said on the anniversary of the disaster Wednesday.
“I think that Lebanese leaders… owe their people the truth and transparency,” Macron said at an UN-backed donor conference for Lebanon via video link.
The August 4, 2020, explosion in the Beirut port killed at least 214 people, traumatising the nation and bringing an already stuttering economy closer to the brink of collapse.
Macron aimed to raise at least $350 million in emergency aid for the battered Lebanese population from the participants in the conference, including US President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Lebanon’s own President Michel Aoun and the International Monetary Fund.
In the end, new pledges totalled around $370 million, Macron’s office said. In addition, there were promises of “substantial aid in kind”.
Fuel, medicine and food have all grown scarce in Lebanon as political parties bicker over the makeup of a new government, holding up a much-needed international bailout.
Macron kicked off donor pledges with a promise of close to 100 million euros ($118 million) in French aid and a donation of 500,000 Covid-19 vaccine shots.
But he had stern words for Lebanon’s leaders, accusing them of “deliberately letting things fester”.
“Lebanon deserves better than to live off international charity,” he said, accusing the country’s widely reviled political class of putting its “individual, partisan interests above the interests of the Lebanese people”.
Macron’s financial pledge was matched by Biden, who announced: “nearly $100 million in new humanitarian assistance” for Lebanon.
But he said, “no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough if Lebanon’s leaders do not commit to doing the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy and combating corruption”.
Donors had already dug deep for Lebanon at two previous aid conferences last year, which raised 280 million euros in emergency relief.
While that aid was unconditional, the international community is refusing to sign off on a bigger rescue plan until Lebanon has a new government that is committed to tackling corruption and undertaking economic reforms.
“Let me be frank: This crisis is mostly manmade. Lebanese political actors have not lived up to their responsibilities and to the legitimate expectations of the Lebanese people,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the conference Wednesday, announcing 40 million euros in aid from his country.
The European Union, for its part, offered 5.5 million euros to help Lebanon fight Covid.
The IMF noted that Lebanon stands to receive $860 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as the organisation launches a new round of SDR allocations for all its members later this month.
“It is imperative that SDRs are used responsibly and wisely,” the IMF cautioned.
Lebanon has been without a government for all of the past year.
Najib Mikati, the billionaire businessman recently appointed prime minister, had hoped to form a cabinet by the anniversary of the blast, but squabbling over cabinet posts continues.
The EU said last week it was ready to impose sanctions on members of the ruling elite who obstruct attempts to improve governance and public sector accountability.
France has already barred several Lebanese officials from its territory, without publicly naming them.
One of the chief demands of the Lebanese population and the international community has been that top officials be investigated over the warehouse fire that triggered the port blast.
The depot contained hundreds of tonnes of poorly stored ammonium nitrate.