Lebanese parliament approves 2020 budget

Lebanese lawmakers vote for the 2020 budget at the parliament in Beirut Monday in this photo release from the Lebanese parliament media office. (AP)
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Updated 28 January 2020

Lebanese parliament approves 2020 budget

  • Budget did not include any economic vision, but was limited to numbers
  • Dozens of protesters tried to prevent lawmakers from attending the session

BEIRUT: The Lebanese parliament approved the country’s 2020 budget on Monday, in an unprecedented session that revealed the true extent of the state of confusion in Beirut.

The governments of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which drafted the budget, and current Prime Minister Hassan Diab, did not attend the budget debate, with Diab stating his government had “not yet won the confidence of Parliament, and has no right to retrieve the draft budget to study and modify it.”
The session was attended by just 70 deputies out of its 128, and was boycotted by the deputies of the Lebanese Forces and the Phalange parties, and a number of independent members of Parliament (MPs).
Forty-nine MPs approved the budget, from the Hezbollah, Amal, and Free Patriotic Movement blocs and their allies. Thirteen MPs voted against it, including the Future Movement bloc, and eight abstained, including the Democratic Gathering bloc, which is loyal to Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.
The budget did not include any economic vision, but was limited to numbers. The head of the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee, Ibrahim Kanaan, said that it included “an estimate of resources and allocations of funds.”
The budget deficit reached $7.5 billion.
Lebanon is suffering from a decline in its resources and an economic recession as a result of the tight banking restrictions on money transfers in US dollars.
In his diagnosis of financial reality, MP Salim Saadeh said: “I studied the budget numbers and added the debt service at a value of 4 or 5 trillion Lebanese pounds (LBP), and added the electricity deficit at a value of LBP1.5 trillion. The deficit is around $7.5 billion, and gross domestic product deficit is 12.7 percent, which indicates that our situation is very bad.”
He added: “The destruction that hit Lebanon’s economy is caused by the banks, the Lebanese Central Bank and the state treasury. We have a capital control that is stricter than in communist countries, and we now have three different dollar exchange rates with banks, money exchange companies and people.”
Saadeh said that the state was “suffering from a deficit in the trade balance, the balance of payments, the budget, the current account, the dollar reserves in the central bank, economic activity and in the treasury’s ability to borrow. There is also a failure to reform in light of the presence of the protests on the streets and the inability to stabilize the exchange rate of the dollar after we convinced citizens that the price of LBP1,500 for the dollar was permanent.”

BACKGROUND

Lebanon is suffering from a decline in its resources and an economic recession as a result of the tight banking restrictions on money transfers in US dollars. The budget deficit reached $7.5 billion.

During their discussion of the draft budget, MPs made some amendments to it, such as abolishing a clause that exempted sects from the tax on donations. The reduction also included the allocations for nongovernmental organizations, and imposed control over loans and donations in accordance with the constitution-sensitive mechanism and the Public Accountancy Act.
Hezbollah objected to any additional increase in electricity service prices provided by generators to citizens.
Six state ministries were canceled in the draft budget because they were no longer present in the new government.
The number of speakers permitted to address the session was cut from 21 to six, due to security concerns surrounding Parliament. This led to the discussion of the draft budget and its approval within three hours, despite originally expected to take two days.
Outside, protesters and security forces clashed, with firecrackers and stones thrown at the barricades erected to prevent the storming of the session. The Corniche El-Mazraa road in Beirut was also blocked of, and security forces responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The Lebanese Red Cross declared four people had been wounded and taken to hospitals in the capital, with eight other minor injuries recorded.


Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

An Iranian army soldier walks through a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2020

Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

  • Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible”

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani has warned that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as its declared death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, which first originated in China.
Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
At his daily news briefing, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 123 more people in Iran had died from the virus in the past 24 hours.
He reported 2,901 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the overall number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309.
According to the official, 12,391 of those hospitalized have recovered and 3,467 are in “critical” condition.
“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting.
“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, he said, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time.”
After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible.” Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the measure was later extended to the whole country.
After Rouhani’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s new year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

FASTFACT

Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces we have passed the peak (of the epidemic) and are on a downward trajectory.”
Several Iranian government officials and notable figures have been infected by the new coronavirus, some of whom have died.
The most recent case of infection was Mohammed-Reza Khatami, brother of former president Mohammad Khatami and an ex-deputy speaker of parliament.
He is currently hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who tested positive for the virus in late February, has returned to public life and appeared on state television to emphasize safety precautions.