During Wednesday's afternoon session at the Lebanese parliament, lawmakers approved five new taxes and levies that include a 1 percent increase to the value-added tax (VAT), which previously stood at 10 percent.
The taxes were raised to fund the salary hike that would offer public sector workers, including teachers, new salary packages. Deliberations on other articles related to the law continue Thursday.
The salary scale is estimated at 1.2 trillion Lebanese lira ($800 million). According to MP Samy Al Gemayel, Head of the Kataeb party, some “$4.2 billion is lost due to tax evasion, including evading income tax and VAT ... Not to mention ... evading Customs fees on the goods that enter through the airport and port.”
He was the only MP to reject the tax increase, calling on officials to look into alternative means to fund the salary hike - mainly, clamping down on corruption.
Times are tough
According to a 2009 UNDP study, any increase to the VAT tax will effectively impact thousands of people in the country, particularly the middle class and households living just above the poverty line. Overall poverty in Lebanon, which stood at 30 percent at the time is projected to increase to 35 and even 50 percent as the VAT rate is moved up. This is because adjustments to it translate into a significant rise in prices of daily purchases.
A more recent Oxfam report (2016), says the number of people living under the poverty line in Lebanon has risen by 66 percent since 2011. Similarly, the World Bank estimates that an extra 170,000 Lebanese became poor between 2011 and 2014. Also, 350,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon are estimated to be unable to meet their minimum survival requirements and another 350,000 Lebanese live on less than $1 per day.
The adjustments will affect everyday purchases, and people are worried
Outraged Lebanese citizens took to social media platforms, expressing their rejection to the new approved taxes. And many are calling for protests, with news that two will be taking place during the weekend.
Many were outraged
"This parliament's MPs couldn't care less about the increase in taxes, because either way they'll continue to survive."
"An MP becomes a thief when people re-elect him and don't hold him accountable for his actions by throwing him in jail."
"How are we going to move forward if the people are voluntarily serving the corrupt?"
"It is not any MP's fault. It is the people's fault, they continue to support and follow the orders. Wake up!"
Some have lost hope
Some asked fundamental questions
And others called for action
"Taxing the poor you thieves? A call for civil disobedience is a must now."
"If we don't change our fate with our own hands, we deserve these corrupt tax additions."
"To the streets this Sunday, we refuse their theft."