Senior Lebanese official denies IMF issued call to float currency

Lebanon’s draft budget was welcomed by the International Monetary Fund as ‘a welcome first step on a long road.’ (Reuters)
Updated 18 July 2019

Senior Lebanese official denies IMF issued call to float currency

  • The Lebanese pound has been fixed at 1,507.5 to the dollar since 1997

BEIRUT: A senior adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Thursday denied that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had urged Lebanon to unpeg its currency from the dollar.

Nadim Munla said comments by Hariri to parliament this week about IMF proposals including currency flotation referred to “general recipes” that the fund recommends to governments, rather than specific recommendations for Lebanon.

The pound has been fixed at 1,507.5 to the dollar since 1997, and the IMF has not proposed floating it “recently or in the last few years”, Munla said.

Hariri made his comments at the start of a three-day parliamentary session expected to approve a budget that aims to slash the deficit as a step towards putting the heavily indebted country’s finances on a sustainable path.

Munla said they had been a response to criticism during the debate, adding: “The IMF never in recent history has recommended this; that’s why their concluding statement after the last visit to Lebanon did not include anything to this effect.”

In its statement after a regular Article IV review, the IMF said this month that Lebanon should raise value-added tax (VAT) and increase fuel excise duty as well as trying to increase tax compliance to raise more revenue.

Asked if Lebanon was considering requesting IMF assistance, Munla said Lebanon had never requested an IMF programme, adding: “We do not see the urgency to do that.”

The IMF said the draft budget together with a plan to reform the power sector were “very welcome first steps on a long road.” But it said the 2019 budget deficit would likely be well above the government’s target of 7.6 percent of gross domestic product.

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”