BEIRUT: The new finance minister of debt-saddled Lebanon said he would meet with a senior official from the International Monetary Fund on Saturday for a “courtesy visit” and not bailout talks. Ghazi Wazni’s meeting with IMF Alternative Executive Director Sami Geadah comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
It follows a meeting on Friday between Wazni and a delegation from the World Bank led by its regional director Saroj Kumar Jha.
“It is a courtesy visit which aims to get to know the IMF team,” Wazni said.
“The discussions will not focus on an economic rescue plan, which is being prepared (separately) inside government,” he added.
Wazni assumed the post of finance minister on Tuesday with the formation of a long-awaited cabinet that faces huge economic and political challenges.
The previous government resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into a protest movement demanding the removal of politicians deemed incompetent and corrupt.
Wazni comes into the post at a time when the plummeting Lebanon pound has lost over one-third of its value against the dollar in the parallel market.
Lebanese banks are tightening restrictions on dollar transactions amid a liquidity crunch.
The economic downturn has raised questions over whether Lebanon will turn to the IMF for a bailout — an option the government has yet to comment on but which some officials regard as inevitable.
Last month, former prime minister Saad Hariri discussed a possible economic rescue plan with the heads of the IMF and the World Bank, further fueling speculation of a bailout.
If Lebanon does turn to the IMF it may have to increase its value-added tax, slash subsidies to the state-owned electricity company, tackle rampant corruption and enact a raft of structural reforms, according to previous IMF recommendations.