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.


‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

A mask-clad young Iraqi woman speaks to another during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, despite the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 39 sec ago

‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

  • Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say

BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America.
Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir.
Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails.
Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned.
“Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP.
And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said.
Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society.
“In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US.
“But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP.
Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa.
In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent.
“Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year.
“Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP.
Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US.
In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context.
“This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.”
Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words.
Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however.
The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.”
And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq.
“Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland.
Others have used biting sarcasm.
In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.