Lebanese parliamentary panel to approve 2020 budget this year, committee head says

This picture taken on November 27, 2019 shows a banner in Arabic reading "we will not pay the price" hanging outside the headquarters of the Banque du Liban (Lebanese Central Bank) in Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2019

Lebanese parliamentary panel to approve 2020 budget this year, committee head says

  • Treasury revenues had been almost non-existent for the last 45 days, but assured Lebanese that public-sector salaries would be paid, committee head Ibrahim Kanaann said
  • Protesters are demanding that the country’s ruling elite be replaced, blaming them for failures in years that followed the 1975-90 civil war

BEIRUT: The Lebanese parliament’s budget and finance committee will approve the 2020 budget by the end of the year and the next government must adopt it, committee head Ibrahim Kanaan said on Thursday.
Lebanon has been grappling with the worst economic conditions in decades, amid protests that prompted Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to resign on Oct. 29, leaving the country in politically deadlocked.
Kanaan said the committee must quickly finalize a budget needed to restore confidence in the country and take account of bruising economic conditions.
“Before the end of next month, the holiday season ... we will have finished the debate and approval of the 2020 budget,” Kanaan said in a televised news conference. “It is not possible for the new government not to adopt this budget because when this budget is approved it will become a law.”
Kanaan said treasury revenues had been almost non-existent for the last 45 days, but assured Lebanese that public-sector salaries would be paid.
Lebanon is hoping to enact urgent economic reforms that can convince donors to disburse some $11 billion in aid pledged at a conference last year.

Meanwhile,  Lebanon paid back a Eurobond worth $1.5 billion that was scheduled to mature Thursday, a Finance Ministry official said, pacifying concerns of a first-ever default on its debt amid the worst financial crisis in three decades.
The tiny Mediterranean country’s economic emergency has ignited nationwide protests against widespread corruption and mismanagement, bringing the country to a standstill for over a month. The protests were initially sparked by new taxes, but have snowballed into calls for the entire political elite to step aside.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October, meeting a key demand of the protesters. But that has plunged the country into further uncertainty, with no clear path to resolving its economic and political problems.
The Eurobond announcement came as a top Arab League official arrived in Lebanon, expressing readiness to help the country solve its political stalemate.
The repayment was being widely watched in Lebanon, which has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at $86 billion or 150% of the GDP. There were concerns that Lebanon, which always paid back its debt on time, might default. Lebanon has in recent weeks imposed unprecedented capital controls.
The Finance Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, gave no further details about the repayment. Local media reported that the payment was made from the reserves of the Central Bank.
The office of Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, said he discussed political and economic conditions with visiting Arab League assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki. Aoun has not set a date for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new premier. Hariri, who was Aoun’s and the militant group Hezbollah’s favorite to lead a new Cabinet, withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday.
Politicians have failed to agree on the shape and form of a new government. Hariri had insisted on heading a government of technocrats, while his opponents, including Hezbollah, want a Cabinet made up of both experts and politicians.
Furthermore, the protesters are demanding that the country’s ruling elite be replaced, blaming them for failures in years that followed the 1975-90 civil war. The protests have remained overwhelmingly peaceful, resorting to road closures and other tactics in an effort to pressure politicians into responding to their demands.
But in recent days, scuffles broke out in Beirut and other areas between protesters and Aoun and Hezbollah supporters, leaving dozens of people injured. As tempers flare, there are real concerns Lebanon could be sliding toward a prolonged period of instability.
“The current situation cannot take conditions and counter-conditions. We should all work together to get out of the crisis in what serves the interest of the Lebanese people,” Aoun said in comments released by his office Thursday. He added that Arab support “should be translated into actual steps regarding assistance to improve the deteriorating economic conditions.”
Zaki told reporters said there must be solution for the Cabinet formation crisis, adding that “it is important so that Lebanon avoids negative effects on its economic conditions and civil peace.”
Scores of Lebanese businesses have closed in recent months and thousands of employees were either laid off or are getting half their salaries amid the crisis. Local banks have imposed capital controls worsening the economic conditions amid a liquidity crisis and shortage in US dollars.
Since 1997, the Central Bank has kept the pound stable at 1,507 to the dollar thanks to heavy borrowing at high interest rates but on the black market, the price of the dollar reached in recent days 2,100 pounds, a 40 percent over the official price. * with AP 


Lebanese burn ruling parties’ offices after night of clashes

Updated 54 min 35 sec ago

Lebanese burn ruling parties’ offices after night of clashes

  • Attacks came just hours after Beirut was rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters

BEIRUT: Attackers in northern Lebanon set fire to the offices of two major political parties on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency said.
The assaults came just hours after the capital Beirut was rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters since nationwide demonstrations began two months ago. Lebanese security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used water cannons throughout the night to disperse anti-government protesters from the city center — the epicenter of the protest movement in Beirut — and around parliament.
The overnight confrontations in Beirut left more than 130 people injured, according to the Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense.
In the northern Akkar district on Sunday, attackers broke the windows and torched the local office for resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s political party in the town of Kharibet Al-Jindi.
In a separate attack in Akkar district, assailants stormed the local office of the largest party in parliament, affiliated with President Michel Aoun and headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Their party said the contents of the office in Jedidat Al-Juma town had also been smashed and burned.
Lebanon is facing one of its worst economic crises in decades, and the protesters accuse the ruling political class in place for three decades of mismanagement and corruption.
The violence comes a day before the president is due to hold talks with different parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister on Monday.
Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan on Sunday ordered an investigation into the clashes which she said injured both protesters and security forces. She said she watched the confrontations “with concern, sadness and shock.”
Al-Hassan blamed “infiltrators” for instigating the friction and called on the demonstrators to be wary of those who want to exploit their protests for political reasons. She didn’t elaborate.
Nationwide protests began on Oct. 17, and the government headed by Hariri resigned two weeks later.
Political parties have since been bickering over the shape and form of the new Cabinet. Protesters want a technocratic government, not affiliated with established political parties.
After weeks of back and forth, Hariri has emerged as the likely candidate for the job.