Lebanon approves first state budget in 12 years

Lebanese members of parliament attend a general parliament discussion in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Lebanon approves first state budget in 12 years

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament has approved the 2017 state budget, the first in 12 years.
The approval is “a real accomplishment resulting from a political consensus,” economic expert Issam Al-Jurdi told Arab News.
“It will show the whole world that today, the Lebanese state is solid and its institutions have actually begun functioning,” he said.
“The political crisis — which has paralyzed and divided the country for years, and harmed it politically, economically and socially — was solved by a one-year deadline to audit the past 12 years of extra-budgetary spending,” he added.
“I think this deadline will be renewed, and the auditing accounts will remain an instrument of pressure whenever political tensions are exacerbated,” Al-Jurdi said.
“People warn us that we would face the same fate as Greece, but our condition is far worse… because in Greece, the people hold the government accountable for all its actions. The Greeks overthrew three governments a year after the crisis began. In Lebanon, who dares to question a minister who belongs to a political party?”
During Wednesday’s parliamentary session, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri urged lawmakers to “seize the opportunity of approving the new state budget, to renew trust among the Lebanese people and work together for our nation’s interest.”
He criticized some politicians “who attempted to divert Parliament’s attention from studying the important state budget, and… to score illusive victories.”
Al-Hariri added: “If the law was violated in the past years in the absence of a state budget, today we stand here in Parliament to put an end to those violations, to respect and abide by legal and constitutional timeframes, and to start preparing the draft law of the 2018 state budget according to an economic, administrative, financial and developmental vision.”
Economic expert Dr. Louis Hobeika said: “Despite the delay, it’s a positive step that will show the whole world that Lebanon is making real progress.”
But he cautioned: “An $11-billion amount was spent in the past years with no auditing reports. This issue, which was behind many political tensions, was dropped, as some deputies said during the parliamentary session that it couldn’t be solved.”
Hobeika added: “Despite the fact that the discussions were shallow, they aimed to remind people of the deputies’ presence as they’ve extended their own term three times in a row, and the next elections will be held soon.”
Thirty-five deputies discussed the state budget. The Lebanese Forces MP accused Banque Du Liban (BDL) Gov. Riad Salameh of “failing to submit yearly budget reports for 20 years.”
This prompted many to defend the bank, saying it was working to maintain a stable exchange rate.
Salameh said: “The BDL has submitted yearly auditing reports to the Finance Ministry for the past 20 years, and the bank’s records are subject to auditing by two international firms that have nothing to do with the BDL. The national bank has paid the government over the past 20 years $4.5 billion.”
Finance Minister Hassan Khalil said before voting: “For 20 years, the BDL has been sending the government detailed reports that are subject to international auditing.” The budget “will reinforce financial regularity,” he added.
Until the end of 2016, the public debt service had reached 112.89 billion Lebanese lira, meaning that 48 percent of state revenues go to the public debt service due to increased spending, Khalil said.


Haftar hands captured Libyan oil terminals to eastern administration

Updated 17 min 1 sec ago
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Haftar hands captured Libyan oil terminals to eastern administration

  • Libyan National Army says it had regained “full control” of oil crescent.
  • Haftar supports administration in the east that opposes government in Tripoli.

BENGHAZI: Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar will transfer control of oil ports recently recaptured by his forces to the administration in eastern Libya he supports, a spokesman for the field marshal said Monday.
Haftar’s announcement came just hours after his Libyan National Army said it had regained “full control” of the country’s oil crescent after driving a rival militia out of the area.
“All the oil installations controlled by (Haftar’s) Libyan National Army are being handed over to the National Oil Corporation dependent on the provisional eastern government and that is headed by Faraj Al-Hassi,” spokesman Ahmad Al-Mesmari said.
Haftar supports an administration based in Libya’s east that opposes the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
The LNA already announced last Thursday that it had recaptured the Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra terminals, a week after they were seized by armed groups led by militia leader Ibrahim Jadhran, although military operations in the area were unfinished.
Jadhran’s Petroleum Facilities Guard controlled the two key oil ports for years following the 2011 NATO-backed removal of Muammar Qaddafi — but they were eventually forced out by the LNA in September 2016.
The spokesman Mesmari said oil revenues from the four terminals now under LNA control would be handled by the administration in the east supported by Haftar.
Haftar made the decision after realizing “rival armed groups are financed by oil revenues secured by the LNA,” Mesmari said, referring to Jadhran’s forces.
Up until now, the terminals have been managed by the National Oil Company tied to Libya’s internationally recognized government based in Tripoli.
The NOC is chaired by Mustafa Sanalla, who represented Libya last week at an OPEC meeting in Vienna.
Clashes between Jadhran’s forces and the LNA in the oil crescent pushed the NOC on June 14 to suspend exports from terminals in the area, warning of billions of dollars in losses.
After visiting the Ras Lanuf terminal on Sunday, the NOC said violence had slashed oil production by almost half and cost billions of dollars in losses.
Libya’s economy relies heavily on oil, with production at 1.6 million barrels per day under Qaddafi.
The uprising that led Qaddafi’s demise saw production fall to about 20 percent of that level, before recovering to more than one million barrels per day by the end of 2017.