Lebanese PM: new budget start of “a long road” to economic safety

Saad Al-Hariri said the 2020 budget would not take as much time to create as the 2019 budget. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 May 2019
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Lebanese PM: new budget start of “a long road” to economic safety

  • Lebanese PM said the new budget is only the start of the changes for the country
  • Lebanon has one of the biggest debts in the world

BEIRUT: The Lebanese draft state budget for 2019 is the start of a “long road” and shows Lebanon is determined to tackle public sector waste, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said, after his unity cabinet wrapped up marathon talks on the plan.
The budget finalized by the government on Friday cuts the deficit to 7.5% of GDP from 11.5% in 2018. It is seen as a critical test of Lebanon’s will to launch reforms that have been put off for years by a state riddled with corruption and waste.
“The 2019 budget is not the end. This budget is the beginning of a long road that we decided to take in order to lead the Lebanese economy to safety,” Hariri said in a speech at a Ramadan iftar meal on Saturday.
Lebanon’s bloated public sector is its biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing a public debt equal to some 150% of GDP, one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens.
The government, which groups nearly all of Lebanon’s main political parties, met 19 times to agree on the budget. Hariri said the budget for 2020 would not take that much time “because now we know what we want to do.”
“The 2019 budget is the beginning of the process of what we want to do in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks sent by his office.
The cabinet is due to meet on Monday at the presidential palace to formally seal the process before the budget is referred to parliament.
The budget could help unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year for infrastructure investment, if it wins the approval of donor countries and institutions.
Hariri said the budget was a message to the Lebanese, financial markets and friendly foreign states that Lebanon was determined to “address the weakness, imbalance and squander in the public sector.”
Measures to rein in the public sector wage bill include a three-year freeze in all types of state hiring and a cap on extra-salary bonuses. State pensions will also be taxed.
A big chunk of the deficit cut stems from tax increases including a 2% import tax and a hike in tax on interest payments.
The government also plans to cut some $660 million from the debt servicing bill by issuing treasury bonds at a 1% interest rate to the Lebanese banking sector.
Fears the budget would lead to cuts to state salaries, pensions or benefits triggered weeks of strikes and protests by public sector workers and military veterans.


Paris Air Show: After Boeing showstopper, Airbus seeks order bounce

Updated 19 June 2019
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Paris Air Show: After Boeing showstopper, Airbus seeks order bounce

  • British Airways owner IAG signs letter of intent to buy 200 of its 737 MAX jets
  • Airbus is looking for up to 200 orders for the A321XLR, which is designed to open up new routes

PARIS: Airbus, reeling from the potential loss of a major customer for its best-selling A320neo as British Airways owner IAG placed a lifeline order for the grounded 737 MAX, prepared to hit back with more orders for its A321XLR on Wednesday.
The planemaker has been negotiating with US airlines investor Bill Franke whose Indigo Partners has also been known to place orders for multiple airlines within its portfolio and could reel it in for the Paris Air Show, industry sources said.
Airbus declined to comment.
After weathering intense scrutiny over safety and its public image, Boeing won a vote of confidence on Tuesday as IAG signed a letter of intent to buy 200 of its 737 MAX jets that have been grounded since March after two deadly crashes.
The surprise order lifted the energy of a previously subdued Paris Airshow, where the talk had been of the possible end of the aerospace cycle, given the issues at both Boeing and Airbus as well as geopolitical and trade tensions around the world.
Australia’s Qantas Airways said on Tuesday it would order 10 Airbus new A321XLR jets and convert a further 26 from existing orders already on the Airbus books.
Airbus is also in talks with leasing company GECAS and has been trying to secure an eye-catching order for the A321XLR from American Airlines, though the world’s largest carrier does not typically make announcements at air shows.
Airbus is looking for up to 200 orders for the A321XLR, which is designed to open up new routes.