Saad Hariri: Saving a Sinking Ship?
By: Nader Fawz
Published Thursday, January 5, 2012
The political isolation of Saad Hariri following his ouster from power in Lebanon may be now compounded after sources close to him say his Future Movement’s offices are being rid of close to a third of its employees.
The long anticipated cutbacks in the Future Movement and its institutions have reportedly begun with a third of the party’s employees in the process of being laid off. Next in line are the movement’s media outlets.
This current round of layoffs, which includes allegedly high severance pay, is believed to have affected 35 percent of Future Movement office employees, most of whom earned low salaries, such as service workers, janitors, mail carriers, and drivers.
While a good portion of office employees were being let go, the big earners remained behind their desks and TV screens without paying much attention to what was happening near them.
As a matter of fact, one of those big earners views these layoffs in a positive light, saying, “Most of those people have no place in the Future Movement. They were hired to end their complaints and that of their families who happen to support the Future Movement.”
In the corridors of the Future building on Spears Street in Beirut, a number of employees say that media coordinator Ayman Jezzini took it upon himself to inform tens of employees of the decision to let them go, despite the fact that many of those he fired consider him a close friend.
Some may also be surprised by the “distinguished” names whose salaries were cut off at the beginning of the year. Officials in the Future Movement have denied that such people were let go even though such individuals have been absent from their offices and places of work.
These officials add that the cost-cutting measures will include reducing high salaries instead of laying off people, noting that most of those affected by this policy were being paid “two and a half times more than their designated salaries.”
According to Future Movement sources, “salaries are going to be set at their original amounts while ‘incentives’ that employees were receiving in the past few years are going to be reduced.”
Another decision that is expected to be implemented soon will see the number of allocations given to employees decrease. These allocations include gas vouchers, allowances for meeting expenses, lunch and dinner invitations, and telephone bills.
One insider says that in previous years, the Future Movement’s leadership paid for the use of thousands of phone lines for employees and officials that worked at their institutions, covering all bills without question or accountability.
In addition, Future Movement leader and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri decided to cut the expense budget allocated to employees and those close to him which was set up to help them overcome their personal financial difficulties from time to time.
A member of the Future Movement says that the decision to restructure and squeeze expenditures started with the organizational body of the movement and will soon move on to Future TV and the party’s newspaper.
He adds that Saad Hariri and his advisers asked the Future Movement’s Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri to take the necessary measures to reduce the staff budget. Ahmad Hariri began working on these recommendations last week after quickly carrying out a survey with the help of close aids.
In other institutions, including the two TV channels, Future TV and Future News and the party’s newspaper, management drew up a list of names of those who could be let go.
The lay offs have been ongoing in the television department of the Future Movement, even though Hariri’s team has not yet completed its plan for the sector.
During a meeting held in the last week of 2011 in Saudi Arabia that included Saad Hariri, his advisers, and financial officials, no final decision was reached regarding the restructuring of the television sector, its form or content.
The idea of fashioning Future TV after US media channels was raised in the meeting, but was quickly shot down by a number of advisers who argued that it would turn Future TV into a copy of MTV, another Lebanese channel.
The meeting ended with a decision requiring a 30 percent decrease in the cost of operating one of the stations, if not both.
At this time, Future TV managers began preparing the personnel rosters. A number of insiders confirmed that the names are ready and the rosters are in the drawers of officials.
This information has created a lot of confusion in the ranks of Future Movement members. There are risks accompanying the cutback that Hariri wants to implement, for which his close aids are starting to prepare.
First among these risks is the “Beirut vs. Sidon competition within the institutions,” as some sources put it.
According to these sources, since the 1990s “Future Movement members from Beirut have often complained that Sidon residents receive excessive attention and their interests are given priority at the expense of Beirutis.”
Sources believe that similar crises will continue to plague the Future Movement because this is just one of the consequences of using the “patronage system adopted by the Hariri family.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.