Lebanon’s Hariri Seeks Foreign Support for Reforms as he Studies Possible Reshuffle

Tuesday, 22 October, 2019 - 14:15
Asharq Al-Awsat

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri held meetings on Tuesday with western and Arab ambassadors to explain a reform package announced a day earlier to pacify massive protests calling for his government to resign.

Hariri hopes the reform package will increase foreign investments and help Lebanon's struggling economy.

But he is also studying a possible government reshuffle, to be "determined in the coming few days," according to the prime minister's economic adviser, Nadim Munla.

Foreign governments backed the Lebanese government's reform targets, Hariri's office cited the country's UN coordinator Jan Kubis as saying on Tuesday.

Hariri met ambassadors including from the United States, Russia, China, the European Union and the Arab league, his office said.

They urged Lebanon to address the demands of protesters, refrain from using violence against them, and work to curb corruption, it said.

The cabinet approved the 2020 budget with a 0.63 percent deficit on Monday. The government also approved a series of reforms that would cut the budget deficit, with the central bank and the banking sector helping to reduce the deficit by about $3.4 billion next year.

Munla said restoring the people's confidence in their government "is not going to be an easy job. It's going to be an uphill battle."

He told reporters that the plan would include cutting debt servicing costs, privatizing no more than 40 percent of the telecoms sector, improving the dysfunctional power sector and cutting salaries of top officials in half.

Lebanese officials hope that plans to fix the electricity sector — which costs the state around $2 billion annually — would lead to the release of $11 billion in loans and grants made by international donors at the CEDRE conference in Paris last year.

Munla said international companies like Siemens, General Electric or Mistubishi will have a two-month window to make bids for constructing new power stations, with the winning bid announced two months later.

He said the plants — which will take years to build — should increase Lebanon's power production by 1,000 megawatts by mid-2020. Lebanon currently produces about 2,000 megawatts, while its peak demand is nearly 3,500 megawatts. Residents rely on private generators to cover the deficit.

Despite Hariri’s reform pledges, thousands of protesters gathered for a sixth day of demonstrations in downtown Beirut and elsewhere.

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