Lebanon’s central bank seeks extra powers

A Lebanese protester carries a child as he takes part in a rally in front of a bank in the southern city of Sidon on December 30, 2019 to protest against nationwide imposed restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad. (AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2020

Lebanon’s central bank seeks extra powers

  • Measures imposed by Lebanese commercial banks needed to be regulated and unified, a central bank letter said

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s central bank is seeking extra powers to regulate and standardise controls which commercial banks are imposing on depositors, the governor said on Sunday, saying his intention was to ensure “fair relationships” between banks and customers.

Seeking to prevent capital flight, commercial banks have been tightly controlling access to deposits and blocking most transfers abroad since October, when anti-government protests brought a long-brewing Lebanese economic crisis to a head.

The Lebanese authorities have not, however, introduced formal capital controls regulating these measures.

Central bank governor Riad Salameh, in a text message to Reuters, confirmed sending a letter to Lebanon’s finance minister on Jan. 9 seeking “exceptional powers necessary to issue regulations pertaining” to conditions in the sector.

He said no new measures were planned.

The letter, reported by Lebanese media late on Saturday, said the measures imposed by commercial banks needed to be regulated and unified “with the aim of implementing them fairly and equally on all depositors and clients.”

Lebanon’s caretaker government has not issued any statement on Salameh’s request, which was set out in a letter to caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil.

In the letter, Salameh said implementation of the controls by commercial banks had “on several occasions led to prejudicing the rights of some clients, particularly with respect to the unequal approach with other clients.”

He urged Khalil to work with the government “to take appropriate legal measures ... to entrust (the central bank)” with the necessary extra powers.

In justifying this, he cited the need to “secure the public good, to protect banking and monetary stability ... and to protect the legitimate interests of depositors and clients.”

Reflecting a hard currency shortage, commercial banks have gradually reduced the amount of dollars customers can withdraw since October. For most, the cap is now a few hundred dollars a week.

Lebanon is facing the worst economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war, rooted in decades of state corruption and bad governance that have landed the country with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.


At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

Updated 24 January 2020

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

  • A single tree that to bear 40 different types of apple

DAVOS: The World Economic Forum is not all about the fourth industrial revolution or the rise of AI.

You can also find all manner of strange and intriguing products on display from biodegradable plastic made from algae to wallpaper made from recycled corn husks.

One stand titled “How do you design a tree?” is part of a conservation effort where a single tree is designed to bear 40 different types of apple.

Another stand displays colored seaweed on a rack, showing how clothes can be dyed in a sustainable, non-chemically corrosive manner.

Propped along a large wall is Fernando Laposse’s wallpaper made of variations of purple corn husks that are reinforced with recycled cardboard and cork to create wallpaper and furniture. The husks come from corn that needs very little water and can be grown in the desert, which makes it all the more sustainable.

“This initiative helps the local economy as it brings in jobs and a resurgence of crafts and food traditions while also ensuring sustainability,” Laposse said.

Another display shows a machine that extracts pellets from a mixture of algae and starch and is used to create a thread that is the base of 3D printing. These sustainable, biodegradable plastics made from algae are being experimented with in different regions.

With the rise of deep fakes — a branch of synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness — another stand delivers a warning on the looming dangers of unregulated software.

The Davos forum prides itself on its sustainability, and key topics have included climate, mobility, energy and the circular economy. Everything is recyclable, and participants must download an application in order to keep up with the program and any changes — a move to cut down on paper waste.