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.


Bank jobs go as HSBC and Emirates NBD reduce costs

Updated 15 November 2019

Bank jobs go as HSBC and Emirates NBD reduce costs

  • Others have also reduced headcount amid economic downturn and property market weakness

DUBAI: HSBC Holdings has laid off about 40 bankers in the UAE and Emirates NBD is cutting around 100 jobs, as banks in the Arab world’s second-biggest economy reduce costs.

The cuts come amid weak economic growth, especially in Dubai, which is suffering from a property downturn.

HSBC’s redundancies came after the London-based bank reported a sharp fall in earnings and warned of a costly restructuring, as interim CEO Noel Quinn seeks to tackle its problems head-on.

HSBC has about 3,000 staff in the UAE, part of a nearly 10,000-strong workforce in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

The cuts at Dubai’s largest lender Emirates NBD came in consumer sales and liabilities, one source said, while a second played down the significance of the move.

HSBC and Emirates NBD declined to comment.

“The cuts are part of cost cutting and rationalizing to drive efficiencies in a challenging market,” the second source said.

Other banks have also reduced staff this year. UAE central bank data shows local banks laid off 446 people in the 12 months until the end of September. Foreign banks added staff in the same period.

Staff at local banks account for over 80 percent of the 35,518 banking employees in the country.

The merger between Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Union Commercial Bank and Al Hilal Bank saw hundreds of redundancies.

Commercial Bank International (CBI) said it would offer voluntary retirement to employees in September, which sources said saw over 100 departures. Standard Chartered, too, cut over 100 jobs in the UAE in September.

Rating agency Fitch warned in September a weakening property market would put more pressure on the UAE’s banking sector.