Lebanese PM: new budget start of “a long road” to economic safety

Saad Al-Hariri said the 2020 budget would not take as much time to create as the 2019 budget. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 May 2019

Lebanese PM: new budget start of “a long road” to economic safety

  • Lebanese PM said the new budget is only the start of the changes for the country
  • Lebanon has one of the biggest debts in the world

BEIRUT: The Lebanese draft state budget for 2019 is the start of a “long road” and shows Lebanon is determined to tackle public sector waste, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said, after his unity cabinet wrapped up marathon talks on the plan.
The budget finalized by the government on Friday cuts the deficit to 7.5% of GDP from 11.5% in 2018. It is seen as a critical test of Lebanon’s will to launch reforms that have been put off for years by a state riddled with corruption and waste.
“The 2019 budget is not the end. This budget is the beginning of a long road that we decided to take in order to lead the Lebanese economy to safety,” Hariri said in a speech at a Ramadan iftar meal on Saturday.
Lebanon’s bloated public sector is its biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing a public debt equal to some 150% of GDP, one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens.
The government, which groups nearly all of Lebanon’s main political parties, met 19 times to agree on the budget. Hariri said the budget for 2020 would not take that much time “because now we know what we want to do.”
“The 2019 budget is the beginning of the process of what we want to do in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks sent by his office.
The cabinet is due to meet on Monday at the presidential palace to formally seal the process before the budget is referred to parliament.
The budget could help unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year for infrastructure investment, if it wins the approval of donor countries and institutions.
Hariri said the budget was a message to the Lebanese, financial markets and friendly foreign states that Lebanon was determined to “address the weakness, imbalance and squander in the public sector.”
Measures to rein in the public sector wage bill include a three-year freeze in all types of state hiring and a cap on extra-salary bonuses. State pensions will also be taxed.
A big chunk of the deficit cut stems from tax increases including a 2% import tax and a hike in tax on interest payments.
The government also plans to cut some $660 million from the debt servicing bill by issuing treasury bonds at a 1% interest rate to the Lebanese banking sector.
Fears the budget would lead to cuts to state salaries, pensions or benefits triggered weeks of strikes and protests by public sector workers and military veterans.


Saudi energy giant to invest $3bn in Bangladesh’s power sector

Updated 22 October 2019

Saudi energy giant to invest $3bn in Bangladesh’s power sector

  • Experts say deal will usher in more economic and development opportunities for the country

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia’s energy giant, ACWA power, will set up an LNG-based 3,600 MW plant in Bangladesh after an agreement was signed in Dhaka on Thursday.

The MoU was signed by ACWA Chairman Mohammed Abunayyan and officials from the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), officials told Arab News on Monday.

According to the agreement, ACWA will invest $3 billion in Bangladesh’s energy development sector, of which $2.5 billion will be used to build the power plant while the rest will be spent on an LNG terminal to facilitate fuel supply to the plant. Under the deal, ACWA will also set up a 2 MW solar power plant.

In recent months, both countries have engaged in a series of discussions for investment opportunities in Bangladesh’s industry and energy sectors. 

During the Saudi-Bangladesh investment cooperation meeting in March this year, Dhaka proposed a $35 billion investment plan to a high-powered Saudi delegation led by Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, the Saudi commerce and investment minister, and Mohammed bin Mezyed Al-Tuwaijri, the Saudi economy and planning minister.

However, officials in Dhaka said that this was the first investment deal to be signed between the two countries.

“We have just inked the MoU for building the LNG-based power plant. Now, ACWA will conduct a feasibility study regarding the location of the plant, which is expected to be completed in the next six months,” Khaled Mahmood, chairman of BPDB, told Arab News.

He added that there are several locations in Moheshkhali, Chottogram and the Mongla port area for the proposed power plant.

“We need to find a suitable location where the drift of the river will be suitable for establishing the LNG plant and we need to also consider the suitability of establishing the transmission lines,” Mahmood said.

“It will be either a JV (Joint Venture) or an IPP (Independent Power Producer) mode of investment, which is yet to be determined. But, we are expecting that in next year the investment will start coming here,” Mahmood said.

BPDB expects to complete the set-up process of the power plant within 36 to 42 months.

“We are in close contact with ACWA and focusing on the successful completion of the project within the shortest possible time,” he said.

Abunayyan said that he was optimistic about the new investment deal.

“Bangladesh has been a model for the Muslim world in economic progress. This is our beginning, and our journey and our relationship will last for a long time,” Abunayyan told a gathering after the MoU signing ceremony.

Economists and experts in Bangladesh also welcomed the ACWA investment in the energy development sector.

“This sort of huge and long-term capital investment will create a lot of employment opportunities. On the other hand, it will facilitate other trade negotiations with the Middle Eastern countries, too,” Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told Arab News.

She added that Bangladesh needs to weigh the pros and cons before finalizing such contracts so that the country can earn the “maximum benefits” from the investment.

“It will also expedite other big investments in Bangladesh from different countries,” she said.

Another energy economist, Dr. Asadujjaman, said that Bangladesh needs to exercise caution while conducting the feasibility study for such a huge investment.

“We need to address the environmental aspects, opportunity costs and other economic perspectives while working with this type of big investment. Considering the present situation, the country also needs to focus on producing more solar energy,” Dr. Asadujjaman told Arab News.