Lebanon: Economic Crisis Beleaguers Government, Parliament

Tuesday, 26 March, 2019 - 08:30
Beirut - Mohammed Choucair

One day after Central Bank Governor Riad Salemeh warned political forces from the repercussions of a slow achievement of reforms, Lebanon is urgently required to exit the current economic and financial crisis pressuring the country's cabinet and Parliament.

As a response to the growing economic meltdown, Lebanon should adopt a “tightened belt” policy that requires freezing expenditure and restrict it to paying the public servants’ salaries and health-related bills.

The government is called now, without any delay, to vote on the electricity plan presented by Energy Minister Nada Boustani, who is one of the Free Patriotic Movement’s representatives in the government of Saad Hariri.

Asharq Al-Awsat learned from ministerial sources that a dispute emerged in the last cabinet session between President Michel Aoun and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil over the electricity file and the delicate phase through which the State’s public finance is passing, and which requires durable solutions to avoid collapse.

However, the dispute ended after Aoun asked that ministers discuss other files on the cabinet’s agenda.

Also, Speaker Nabih Berri telephoned the President to put an end to the dispute that emerged between Electricite du Liban and the Finance Ministry.

A minister told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that in general, there is no dispute over placing a new electricity plan for the country.

However, he said, “we cannot accept Boustani’s plan without introducing some amendments, particularly that such plan does not mention the establishment of an Electricity Regulatory Authority, but restricts the building of factories and the rehabilitation of existing ones to the current ministerial committee instead of a biddings management.”

Lately, some reports revealed that fighting corruption and stopping wasting money would not be sufficient to secure new financial resources, if such reform plan is not accompanied by a strict freeze of smuggling.

The minister, who spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, said that smuggling cells benefited from the recent increase of taxes by creating new illegal border crossings between Lebanon and Syria to smuggle goods.

He said “weighty smuggling operations also take place from the Tartous port in Syria to the Lebanese territories.”

Sources said that after Lebanon has overpassed the negative repercussions of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon last week, it is now best that political forces start finding solutions to the dire economic situation.

Pompeo left Beirut last week by causing little harm among local political forces, which avoided public quarrel over whether they supported Washington’s policies against Iran and Hezbollah or objected them.

Therefore, those parties should quickly search for solutions to Lebanon’s economic crisis, based on a partnership between Parliament and the Cabinet before it is too late to save the economy.

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