Never mess with a person’s Facetime.
The people of Lebanon have finally had enough with their poorly structured and highly mismanaged government.
Last Friday, the government announced a $0.20 per day tax on any calls made through messaging services, such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Facetime. The tax would formally be charged on any calls made using VoIP (voice over internet protocol).
The revenue earned from the tax was supposed to help reduce the country’s crippling debt, which has ballooned to $86 billion USD. According to the World Population Review, Lebanons debt is almost 1.57 times their national GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That means they owe a lot more than they make.
However, the tax was abolished the very same day, after social unrest grew at unprecedented rates. Thousands of Lebanese citizens took to the streets to denounce their government and called for all-around reform.
The Lebanese government has been highly sectarian and mired in corruption. The religious division stagnating the government persists throughout the entire country. Yet, with the current uprise, religious leaders and followers of varying faiths all walked side by side in a fight against a common foe.
According to Transparency International, Lebanon has one of the most corrupt governments in the world, ranking 38 out of the 180 countries they studied. The new ‘Whatsapp Tax’ was the final straw for a population that continues to bear the burden of the government’s mismanagement.
“People cannot take it anymore. There are no good schools, no electricity and no water,” said Nader Fares, a protester from central Beirut, to the Times of Israel.
With over 25% of the nation in poverty, the people are vehemently voicing their displeasure, and the government has taken notice.
On top of repealing the new tax, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri also announced a 72-hour window, on Friday, for ministers to approve a reform package that would hopefully appease the growing unrest.
On Monday, the reform package was accepted. As part of the deal, government salaries of current and former officials would be cut by 50%, $3.3 billion USD would be contributed by the banks to reduce the 2020 budget deficit to net-zero, the telecommunications sector would be privatized, and the energy sector would be reformed.
Consequently, an $11 billion USD foreign investment is closer to being unlocked after plans to privatize the telecommunications sector and reform the energy industry were included in the deal. Both were key concerns, raised by foreign donors and investors, that were to be addressed before the funding would be made available.
In addition, the government also pledged to not add any new taxes in next year’s budget and will establish a regulatory and transparency committee to oversee the execution of the reforms.
While the ‘Whatsapp Tax’ may have failed to decrease the national debt, it has done more for the nation that it would have if it were ever implemented.