Lebanon’s PM vows push to finish 2018 budget

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said: ‘The country needs reforms, the budgets of ministries should be reduced and we have to send real positive signs to the states participating in the forthcoming international conferences.’ (AP Photo)
Updated 26 February 2018
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Lebanon’s PM vows push to finish 2018 budget

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri vowed on Monday to hold intensive meetings to complete the 2018 budget in line with a March 5 deadline set by the parliament speaker.
The finance minister has said Lebanon will not be able to ask international donors for support at forthcoming conferences unless it first passes the 2018 budget to show backers that Beirut is serious about reforming the heavily indebted state.
“The country needs reforms, the budgets of ministries should be reduced and we have to send real positive signs to the states participating in the forthcoming international conferences,” Hariri said in a statement from his press office on Monday.
Lebanon hopes to win billions of dollars of international investment at a Paris conference due to take place on April 6. It is seeking funding for a 10-year $16 billion capital investment program aimed at lifting economic growth.
Lebanon’s public debt was estimated above 150 percent of GDP at the end of 2017, and is expected to rise rapidly with a budget deficit above 10 percent over the forecast horizon, the International Monetary Fund said this month.
The country has one of the world’s highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world and its economic growth is very weak, battered by domestic tensions and conflict in neighboring Syria. Political deadlock had left it without a government budget from 2005 until it agreed one last year.
The IMF report said passing the 2018 budget and preparing for the Paris conference could provide opportunities to launch much-needed reforms.
Hariri said: “We will hold consecutive sessions to finish it before the date set by Speaker Nabih Berri on March 5, because everyone will be busy afterwards to prepare for the parliamentary elections.”
Parliamentary elections are due to take place on May 6.


UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

Updated 37 min 26 sec ago
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UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

  • The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups
  • The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation

JERUSALEM: The United Nations and the Palestinian Authority on Monday appealed for $350 million in humanitarian relief for Palestinians next year, saying that they needed more but had to be realistic in the face of “record-low” funding.
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups, including UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation, said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“Humanitarian actors are facing unprecedented challenges, including record-low funding and a rise in attacks to delegitimize humanitarian action,” he said in a joint statement issued on Monday, ahead of the appeal’s launch in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Although “much more assistance is needed,” McGoldrick said, the plan was “reflecting what we can realistically accomplish in this highly constrained context.”
Over the past year, the United States has slashed its funding to the Palestinians, including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million Palestinian refugees.
The United States promised $365 million to the agency in 2018, but paid only a first instalment of $60 million before announcing in August that it would halt all future donations.
The move was widely seen as a means of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter peace negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territories that Israel captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
US-brokered peace talks between the sides collapsed in 2014 and a bid by US President Donald Trump to restart them has so far showed little progress.
Around 77 percent of the funds sought in the 2019 plan would go to Gaza, the appeal organizers said, because the densely populated coastal strip faced a “dire humanitarian situation” after years of an Israeli-led blockade, internal Palestinian political divisions and casualties from demonstrations and recurring hostilities.
“The humanitarian context in the oPt (Occupied Palestinian Territories) is still deteriorating due to the Israeli occupation violations in a time of lack of resources and declining funds because of the politicization of the humanitarian aid,” Palestinian Social Development Minister Ibrahim Al-Shaer said in the statement.