An ordinary soldier who earns LL 1,292,000 per month sees now his purchasing power drastically reduced to a sum that can barely support his family in light of soaring prices of consumer products and foodstuffs, even those considered basic. “My 32-year-old son (an officer), whose monthly salary is LL 2,200,000 (which, at the black market rate, is presently equivalent to $500-$600), has come to ask me for money for the first time,” a former army officer said.
Considered the central pillar of Lebanon’s stability, the military institution, dedicated to maintaining internal security in addition to its traditional border protection mission, is therefore faced with another major challenge, namely the daily survival of its most vulnerable personnel. This situation may, in the medium term, demoralize the troops who are usually called up for heavy, sensitive and risky tasks that the police often have difficulty taking on. Their mission is made even more difficult in the presence of more than two million Syrian and Palestinian refugees, also suffering from the precarious situation, and the prospect of an upsurge of instability and chaos due to poverty which now affects more than half of the Lebanese population.
Although in a somewhat more enviable position than private sector employees, who have been hit hard by rampant unemployment, the military, specifically the “steadfastness” category (soldiers and non-commissioned officers, who carry the greatest weight on their shoulders), would in the near future risk having their availability for service seriously affected, military experts fear.
“Many of them would thus be tempted to look for a second job in parallel to make ends meet,” warned a former officer, taking as an example the situation in 1984-1985, when the value of the pound had plummeted. “At the time, many soldiers came to me for permission to support their families by doing small side jobs,” he said.
What should be feared most in times of acute crisis, however, is the issue of desertions or, worse, the issue of offenses or other crimes that soldiers would be tempted to commit if hunger was to knock on their doors, said an analyst who requested anonymity. “In the 1980s, we encountered situations where soldiers came to us claiming that they had lost their personal weapon, when in reality they had sold it to the militias involved in the civil war. Such a scenario cannot be ruled out if the military were to reach this point of deprivation,” the analyst added. He also fears in the long run some desertion as was the case during the civil war. Such a hy-pothesis does not seem for the time being very plausible, as long as security threats facing the military are still minimal and jobs are not easy to find.
The difficulties encountered are leaving a number of military personnel discouraged while struggling hard to make ends meet. Others however seem resigned, still feeling lucky to be able to receive their salaries, which is no longer the case for many Lebanese in the private sector. But the anxiety is real concerning the future that looks bleak, especially in light of predictions and rumors that the Lebanese state, facing bankruptcy, may reach the point of no longer being able to pay the salaries of its civil and military personnel.
“I would even settle for LL 500,000 to be able to secure food for myself and my wife, provided that the state does not stop paying me my salary regularly,” a retired soldier who currently earns LL 1,700,000 reportedly told his family. But what worries most is not the fate of the retirees who have become unproductive, said a retired officer.“The concern within the army command is rather about the members of the ‘steadfastness’ category, who constitute the majority of the personnel and contribute to maintaining stability in the country,” he added.
The military personnel, who enjoy some financial benefits that raise their base salary by almost 10%, are generally considered to be “relatively advantaged,” compared to private sector employees and even other government employees. “We must not forget that they take their meals at the barracks and have medical coverage, knowing that they also pay only half of the school fees for their children,” in addition to other benefits, said a person whose family members are in the military.
However, even if the situation has not yet reached an alarming point, army officials are now thinking of a solution that may anticipate disaster scenarios and protect the military institution so it continues to fulfill its strategic role.
“Forecasting is vital to be able to respond to the dangers and challenges that threaten not only the military, but all law enforcement agencies as well,” said the former officer. This is why there is an urgent need for the troops to receive aid from third countries to enable them overcome this difficult period.
The problem, however, is to be able to attract this aid without tarnishing the image of the troops, who would then become dependent on foreign powers for their daily survival. Such a scenario would become even more problematic if, for example, some mix between the multifaceted support currently provided by the United States to the Lebanese Army and the payment of military salaries by Washington...
According to the retired officer, the solution lies in the government acting as a channel to receive the funds for not only the army, but also for all law enforcement agencies in a fair way so as not to incite sensitivities. This idea is already being considered by the army command and several countries that are closely monitoring developments in Lebanon, particularly as far as security is concerned.
A Brief Overview of Army Salaries
Below is an overview of army basic salaries as reported to L’Orient-Le Jour by a retired officer:
- Soldier: LL 1,292,000
- Student Officer: LL 1,345,000
- Lieutenant: LL 1,634,000
- Captain: LL 1,776,000
- Major: LL 2,000,000
- Colonel: LL 2,460,000
- Brigadier General: LL 3,600,000
- Major General First: LL 4,960,000
- Commander in Chief of the Army: LL 6,300,000
(This article was originally published in L'Orient-Le Jour in French on the 20th of May)
Like the vast majority of the Lebanese who bear the burden of a heavy economic and financial crisis and the loss of their purchasing power, the military, once envied for certain social benefits they enjoy, now see the actual value of their salaries increasingly diminishing.
An ordinary soldier who earns LL 1,292,000 per month sees now his purchasing power drastically reduced to a sum that can...