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.


Egypt building wall along Gaza border: security source

Updated 11 min 3 sec ago

Egypt building wall along Gaza border: security source

  • Dozens of workers aided by cranes could be seen erecting the structure
  • It wil will stretch from Gaza's southeastern tip to the Rafah crossing with Egypt

GAZA CITY: Egypt has begun building a concrete wall along its border with Gaza, said AFP journalists and a Palestinian security official from Hamas, which controls the enclave, on Wednesday.
Dozens of workers aided by cranes could be seen erecting the structure, which will stretch from Gaza’s southeastern tip to the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only gateway out of Gaza that does not lead into Israel.
The wall is being built along the lines of an old, lower barrier that includes an underground structure designed to curb smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
Contacted by AFP, Egypt’s military declined to comment on the new structure.
A Hamas security source told AFP that the goal was “to complete (the wall) as quickly as possible.”

A picture taken in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip at the border with Egypt shows a crane at the construction site of a wall on the Egyptian side of the border on Feb. 19, 2020. (AFP)

“The important thing for us is to control the border and prevent any illegal activity there,” including any cross-border trafficking, the a said.
A security delegation from Egypt led by General Ahmed Abdel Khalek, who heads Palestinian affairs at Egypt’s intelligence agency, was in Gaza last week seeking to restore calm between Hamas and Israel.
Hamas and the Jewish state have fought three wars since 2008.
Egypt, long a mediator between the two sides, and key Gaza donor Qatar strongly pushed for de-escalation last year.
A truce was quietly agreed but it was not endorsed by Islamic Jihad, another major armed group in Gaza that Israel says is backed by Iran.
Israel’s military said Wednesday that it had “identified a sniper squad of the Islamic Jihad terror organization” firing on troops from Khan Yunis in Gaza.
It said no troops were injured but Israeli forces returned fire and “a hit was identified.”
Officials in Gaza said an Islamic Jihad fighter was slightly injured.