Patients unable to pay for hospitalization as Lebanon’s exchange rate crisis worsens

A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon May 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon May 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 May 2022

Patients unable to pay for hospitalization as Lebanon’s exchange rate crisis worsens

A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon.
  • Red Cross official issues warning over medicine
  • Protests continue over monetary policy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s dollar exchange rate crisis is leaving patients unable to pay for hospitalization, as black market rates hit LBP37,000 on Friday.

Doctors, patients, and hospital owners, who protested in the vicinity of government ministries and the central bank in Hamra Street on Thursday, called for the dollar accounts of hospitals and doctors to be liberalized and warned that things were going to get worse.

Red Cross secretary-general, Georges Kettaneh, said it was important to “think more about securing the medications for difficult and chronic diseases because the situation has become very serious.”




Workers remove sections of the concrete barrier at the entrance of parliament. (AFP)

He added that Red Cross volunteers sometimes noticed that patients being transported to hospital were in poor condition because they were unable to find the medication they needed.

BACKGROUND

The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses.

The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses. It previously covered between 75 and 100 percent of the cost.

Mohammed Karaki, director-general of the National Social Security Fund, said: “Private hospitals insinuating that they might ask patients to pay for the entire hospital bill and collect the amount by themselves later from insurance companies is an inappropriate intimidation.”

Hospitals are protesting their inability to collect funds from banks and, therefore, their inability to provide medical services to insured patients.

“Insurance tariffs and all the other insurance parties can no longer cope with the reality in the current circumstances,” said Karaki. “However, a range of ideas is being contemplated, including the possibility to halt medication provision to focus on hospitalization to secure the real prices so that hospitals don’t charge patients with any difference except as provided by law.”

The ongoing economic crisis is also changing the scene of neighborhoods in Beirut and its suburbs.

Many shops preferred to be in darkness rather than have a generator subscription because they could not cover its cost from declining sales, said one person.

People are having to buy water from private tankers due to outages. But tank owners are charging their customers in dollars due to the cost of gas.

On Thursday and Friday, there were strikes and protests from people in the medical and healthcare sector, patients, public drivers, owners of bakeries and ovens, and security and military contractors, who were protesting about the monetary policy that had brought Lebanon to breaking point.

Hospitals continued their strikes on Friday and suspended all services except for admitting urgent conditions.

Taxi drivers set up roadblocks on the Ring Bridge in the heart of Beirut, blocking intersections between the east and west of the capital, to protest against surging petrol and diesel prices.

These prices exceed the capacity of the general public, leading to additional power outages in households relying on diesel generator subscriptions to ensure minimal lighting.

The monthly bill is now being charged in dollars and is at least $40.

Bakery owners protested in front of the Economy Ministry to demand that wheat be secured for mills and the price for a bread bundle commensurate with the exchange rate.

A middle-sized bread bundle was LBP15,000 on Friday.

“The pricing of the bread bundle was subjected to the high exchange rate of the dollar,” said Antoine Saif, head of the Bakery Owners’ Syndicate in Mount Lebanon.

Gas stations were closed on Friday and the owners’ syndicate called for a protest to demand a radical solution to the current situation because it could no longer afford the heavy losses.

Georges Brax, a spokesperson for the Gas Station Owners’ Syndicate, said that banks kept delaying the payment of the oil-importing companies’ dollar dues, which represented the price of petrol imported according to the Sayrafa platform.

Brax claimed that banks also kept delaying the advance authorizations from the Central Bank, which would result in the continued rationing of gas delivery to the local market by these companies and a decrease in the availability of gas to the consumer at stations, despite the presence of scarce amounts in Lebanese warehouses.

“This will thus prompt the return of the crisis, which is something that no one wants,” he warned.

Talks are being held at the Economic and Social Council's headquarters to study how to improve the incomes of people in the private sector.

Economic entities and the General Labor Union were discussing the erosion of purchasing capacity and living burdens due to the high exchange rate of the dollar, said Mohammed Choucair, head of the Economic Bodies.

He added: “We are heading toward strengthening these incomes.”

The US credit rating agency Fitch has warned that Lebanon's exit from debt default was still difficult after inconclusive parliamentary elections.

In a report, the agency said the current reality further complicated the country's ability to implement financial and economic reforms.


Turkey’s Erdogan says ready to back reinstating death penalty

Turkey’s Erdogan says ready to back reinstating death penalty
Updated 8 sec ago

Turkey’s Erdogan says ready to back reinstating death penalty

Turkey’s Erdogan says ready to back reinstating death penalty
ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would approve possibly reinstating the death penalty if parliament were to send a bill on the matter to him, broadcaster NTV cited him as saying on Friday.
Erdogan’s justice minister said at the weekend Turkey would consider turning back the 2004 abolishment of capital punishment after the president earlier raised the issue in connection with the cause of wildfires. His nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli has backed the idea and said the penalty should extend to terrorism, rape, and the murder of women.
“If necessary, this should be brought back on the agenda and made into a debate. We should see what comes of this debate,” Erdogan was cited as saying.
“I said it before, if parliament makes such a decision as a result of our justice ministry’s work, I will approve this decision,” he added. (Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king
Updated 22 min 9 sec ago

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan's Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to his brother King Abdullah II of Jordan, Petra news agency reported on Friday.

Born in 1963, Prince Faisal is the son of King Hussein and Princess Muna. He is the younger brother of King Abdullah II. He has periodically served as regent during his brother's absences abroad.

He holds a private pilot's licence and received helicopter training while serving in the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

He has served as the president of the Jordan Olympic Committee since 2003.


Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
Updated 01 July 2022

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
  • Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country

DUBAI: Abdullah al-Alimi, a member of Yemen’s Presidential Council, warned that the Houthi militia’s mobilization, regrouping and constant breaches of the UN truce continue to threaten the peace process. 

The comments were made when al-Alimi met with Stephen Fagin, US Ambassador to Yemen, state news agency SABA reported on Thursday.

Al-Alimi said that the Houthi militia must honor its commitment by lifting the siege on Taiz, opening roads in and out of the city, and allowing Yemeni people to move safely and freely across the country. 

Fagin agreed that the commitment on the Houthi’s part is crucial to honor the UN truce, and he confirmed the US’ continuous support for Yemen's internationally-recognized government by helping it perform its responsibilities.

Meanwhile, al-Alimi pointed out that the Presidential Leadership Council has a clear work-plan to tackle challenges faced in the economic, service, security, and military fields, in addition to combating terrorism in the country. 

The two also spoke about ways to promote mutual relations between the two countries. 

Al-Alimi and Fagin addressed issues of common interest during their meeting, which include regional security and the latest methods for combating terrorism. 

Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Fagin also praised the positive position of the Presidential Leadership Council and the government in tightening the humanitarian truce and supporting all efforts for achieving peace in Yemen.


Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
Updated 01 July 2022

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
  • Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president published a planned new constitution on Thursday that he will put to a referendum next month, expanding his own powers and limiting the role of parliament in a vote most political parties have already rejected.
Kais Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside the parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving toward one-man rule and vowing to remake the political system.
His intervention last summer has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted former autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation.
With most of the political establishment opposed to his moves and urging their supporters to boycott the vote, analysts say the measure is likely to pass, but with only limited public involvement.
None of the major parties, including the Islamist Ennahda which is the biggest in parliament and has played a major role in successive coalition governments since the revolution, issued immediate comment on the draft constitution.
Meanwhile, many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.
An online ‘consultation’ Saied held from January-March in preparation for drafting the constitution received scant attention from Tunisians, with very few taking part.

Power
The draft constitution published in the official gazette late on Thursday would bring most political power under Saied, give him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.
Previously, political power was more directly exercised by the parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.
Under the new constitution, the government would answer to the president and not to parliament, though the chamber could withdraw confidence from the government with a two-thirds majority.
Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or sack government ministers and appoint judges, the gazette said.
He could serve two terms of five years each, but extend them if he felt there was an imminent danger to the state, and would have the right to dissolve parliament while no clause allows for the removal of a president.
The constitution would allow Saied to continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament through an election expected in December.
It would also create a new ‘Council of Regions’ as a second chamber of parliament, but it gives few details on how it would be elected or what powers it would have.
Saied, a political independent, has promised a new electoral law. Though he has not yet published it, he has indicated that voters would only choose candidates as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Meanwhile, although Islam will no longer be the state religion, Tunisia will be regarded as part of the wider Islamic nation and the state should work to achieve Islamic goals. The president must be Muslim.
However, Saied has maintained most parts of the 2014 constitution that enumerated rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, the right to organize in unions and the right to peaceful gatherings.
However, judges, police, army and customs officials would not have a right to go on strike. Judges have recently been on strike for weeks in protest at Saied’s moves to curtail judicial independence. 
 


Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
Updated 30 June 2022

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
  • Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict

GENEVA: Libya talks in Geneva ended on Thursday without making enough progress to move toward elections, the United Nations Libya adviser Stephanie Williams said in a statement.

The talks between the House of Representatives and High State Council legislative bodies were aimed at agreeing on a constitutional basis and interim arrangements for holding elections that were originally scheduled for December 2021.

Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict.

Since the planned December election was abandoned, Libya’s rival factions have moved to a standoff over control of the government with both sides backed by armed forces in western areas of the country.

Williams said that in the Geneva talks and earlier meetings in Cairo the two sides had resolved previous disputes on the makeup of a future legislature, the powers of a future president and government, and how to allocate state revenues.

“Disagreement persists on the eligibility requirements for the candidates in the first presidential elections,” Williams said, adding that she would make recommendations on alternative ways forward.

Disputes over the eligibility of several controversial candidates were the trigger for the collapse of December’s election.