Forensic auditor pulls out of Lebanon central bank probe

Lebanon's Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Beirut on March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
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Updated 21 November 2020

Forensic auditor pulls out of Lebanon central bank probe

  • Alvarez & Marsal tells caretaker government it ‘has not received the information it needs to carry out the task’

BEIRUT: Restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal has pulled out of a forensic audit of Lebanon’s central bank because it did not receive information required to carry out the task, caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni told Reuters on Friday.

The decision to walk away from the contract is a blow to Lebanon as it attempts to extricate itself from a deep financial crisis that has crashed its currency, paralyzed banks and prompted a sovereign debt default.

The International Monetary Fund has said the audit is a vital step toward securing financial aid.

The presidency issued a statement saying Wazni had informed President Michel Aoun of the consultancy’s decision to quit.

The statement said the firm told Wazni “it was not certain it would receive the information” it sought, even with a three-month extension announced on Nov. 5 for the central bank to provide data it had withheld.

Neither Alvarez & Marsal nor Lebanon’s central bank immediately responded to a Reuters request for comment.

The central bank, which has faced growing scrutiny since the financial crisis came to a head in October 2019, has previously said it provided its own accounts for the audit.

It has called on the government to submit full state accounts to “spare the central bank from violating legally binding bank secrecy laws.”

The caretaker government, whose talks with the IMF had stalled, has urged the central bank to hand over all data for the audit.

A parliamentary bloc this month submitted a proposed law to temporarily lift the bank secrecy law solely for the audit. No date has been set for a session on the proposed law.

The IMF and foreign donors have pressed for the audit to tackle endemic waste and corruption.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, named last month, has been trying to navigate sectarian politics to form a cabinet to bring in reforms needed to tackle Lebanon’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war, including spreading poverty.

UN special coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said in a Twitter post that a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon on Friday in Beirut discussed “with grave concerns” the country’s deepening crisis.

He said the group, which includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, deplored lack of progress on a new government “but also the absence of a more determined action of existing state and financial institutions.”

Egypt to build 21 desalination plants in phase 1 of scheme -sovereign fund

Updated 01 December 2022

Egypt to build 21 desalination plants in phase 1 of scheme -sovereign fund

  • Egypt also aims to start production at a series of proposed green hydrogen projects in 2025-2026
  • The Sovereign Fund was set up in 2018 with a goal of attracting private investment in state-owned assets through partnerships and co-investments

CAIRO: Egypt plans to award deals next year to build 21 water desalination plants in the first $3 billion phase of a program that will draw on cheap renewable energy, the CEO of the country’s sovereign fund said on Thursday.
Egypt, which recently hosted the COP27 UN climate talks and is trying to boost lagging investment in renewables, also aims to start production at a series of proposed green hydrogen projects in 2025-2026, Ayman Soliman told the Reuters NEXT conference.
Egypt depends almost entirely on the Nile for fresh water, and faces rising water scarcity for its population of 104 million. The desalination program aims to generate 3.3 million cubic meters of water daily in the first phase, and eventually reach 8.8 million cubic meters daily at a cost of $8 billion.
There had been expressions of interest from more than 200 developers from at least 35 countries for the first phase, Soliman said.
The Sovereign Fund was set up in 2018 with a goal of attracting private investment in state-owned assets through partnerships and co-investments.
It is currently focused on getting private consortia to develop brownfield infrastructure, and private equity to develop state-owned enterprises ahead of public listings.
Privatization plans in Egypt have been repeatedly pushed back, with the government blaming delays on economic shocks including the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine as well as on legal obstacles. The plans have also met resistance from advocates of continued state control, analysts say.
Soliman said a state ownership policy that is meant to map out which parts of the economy are open to private investment would serve as the government’s “economic constitution” going forward, and as a platform to crowd in private investment despite the rising cost of capital.
“We as a fund are very sharply focused on trying to find those champions to scale up, be it in agriculture be it in tourism, be it in infrastructure, or be it in banking financial services,” he said.
At the climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, the government converted into framework agreements nine of 15 memoranda of understanding (MoU) for green hydrogen projects concentrated in the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZONE) that would produce millions of tons of hydrogen and ammonia.
At least another three or four MoUs were close to being converted, and more MoUs were planned, with cheap renewable costs and the scale of the potential fuel export market toward Europe making Egypt competitive, Soliman said.
Framework agreements give developers access to specific locations to allow them to plan production.
“This is not a competition. We are creating a pipeline or a blueprint for that process, aiming to start production in 2025-26 and all the developers are working backwards from there,” Soliman said.
So-called green or clean hydrogen is produced using electrolyzers powered by renewable energy to split water from oxygen. It is seen as a potential future power source that could reduce emissions, though to date it is largely limited to experimental projects. Analysts say challenges facing its growth include high costs and energy inputs, as well as safety concerns.
Egypt’s projects would have desalinated water built in, and quantities required would be negligible compared to those produced under the national desalination scheme, according to the Sovereign Fund.


World’s first commercial shipment of blue ammonia leaves Saudi Arabia

Updated 01 December 2022

World’s first commercial shipment of blue ammonia leaves Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: A consignment of blue ammonia has left Saudi Arabia for South Korea, representing a new milestone in the development of decarbonization solutions.

The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, and Vessel Seasurfer, carrying 25,000 metric tons (25 KMT) of low-carbon blue ammonia, is expected to reach its destination between Dec. 9 and 13 in the world’s first commercial shipment of its kind.

The accomplishment, which is an alternative to conventional gray ammonia, is part of a collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients and Aramco.

Lotte Fine Chemical, which has a long-standing relationship with SABIC AN, will receive the low-carbon “cradle to gate” blue ammonia.

Abdulrahman Shamsaddin, SABIC AN CEO, said: “This shipment is another milestone in our journey toward carbon neutrality.

“We are proud to be a part of this pioneering solution, paving the way for further decarbonization efforts.

“Looking to the future, we are constantly working on breakthrough solutions to decarbonize our assets and deliver low-carbon solutions to our customers.”

Yong Suk Kim, LFC CEO, said: “We are delighted to enter this meaningful agreement with our long-term supplier, SABIC Agri-Nutrients, to receive the world’s first certified blue ammonia cargo. 

“Building on our shared history, we are looking forward to moving forward together into a new era for ammonia. We believe that this shipment of blue ammonia will help lay the foundations for a global supply chain." 

Earlier this year, SABIC AN and Aramco received the world’s first independent certifications, recognizing blue ammonia and blue hydrogen production, from TUV Rheinland, a leading independent testing, inspection and certification agency, based in Germany.

The shipment of blue ammonia to South Korea will be the first to capitalize on this major certification achievement. 

The new developments are aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, which focuses on low-carbon fuels, products, solutions and clean energy. 


BEEAH Group paves way for a sustainable future in the region

Updated 27 November 2022

BEEAH Group paves way for a sustainable future in the region

  • Group aims to help Sharjah achieve 100% landfill waste diversion: CEO

DUBAI: BEEAH Group, the UAE’s leading sustainability pioneer and digital expert, has achieved a waste diversion rate of 76 percent, the highest in the Middle East, and the remaining 24 percent was disposed of in landfills.

Speaking to Arab News, Group CEO Khaled Al-Huraimel said that BEEAH Group aims to help Sharjah achieve 100 percent landfill waste diversion in 2022, up from 76 percent currently.

BEEAH Group launched the UAE’s first waste-to-energy facility earlier in 2022 as part of its efforts to achieve zero waste, he added.

The facility, located in Sharjah, would divert over 300,000 tons of non-recyclable waste from landfills annually and generate 30 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power almost 30,000 homes.

“Once the facility reaches full operational capacity, Sharjah will become the first city in the Middle East to achieve zero waste,” Al-Huraimel said

All of this is due to BEEAH Group’s operations in Sharjah with 10 different plants.

There are 10 dedicated recycling facilities that process materials such as paper, plastic, tires, old vehicles, metals, construction and demolition waste, organic waste, industrial wastewater, maritime waste and commercial and industrial waste.

Al-Huraimel said BEEAH was established in 2007 to address the environmental challenges the region was facing, including waste. However, at the beginning of 2022, the company changed its name to BEEAH Group and adopted the structure of an investment holding company and a new visual identity. This is part of the group’s strategy to diversify its core business into new sectors.

The Gulf Cooperation Council countries have the highest waste per capita in the world. Therefore, this was the immediate challenge, he added.

“We started in waste management, and today, we’re proud to say we became the first to reach zero waste in the emirate of Sharjah, and today we are also active across the UAE,” he said. “Our new structure as an investment holding group has seen us launch several new business verticals that will capitalize on business opportunities across different industries and countries.”

BEEAH places sustainability and digitization at the heart of the business. This can be seen across several verticals, including BEEAH Tandeef for waste collection and city cleaning and BEEAH Recycling for waste processing and material recovery. There is also BEEAH Energy for clean and renewable power and BEEAH Environment Services for consulting, research and innovation.

Additionally, there is BEEAH Digital for future technologies and digital ventures, BEEAH Transport for green mobility and autonomous transportation, and BEEAH Education, an environmental education and awarding organization for businesses and individuals.

The various verticals will benefit from the collective experience of the BEEAH Group while having more room to grow within their respective industries.

BEEAH Group encourages collective responsibility for sustainability through education and awareness programs. In 2010, BEEAH Group launched the BEEAH Academy of Sustainability to promote environmental education. Today, the academy reaches a network of more than 252,000 students, 6,500 teachers, and 700 schools. Across its areas of operation, the group aims to improve quality of life through a twin-pillared approach that focuses on sustainability and digitalization.

Digitalization of BEEAH Group

During a private meeting at BEEAH Group’s recently built headquarters, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, Al-Huraimel remarked, “It was one of the last buildings she designed.” 

Our new structure as an investment holding group has seen us launch several new business verticals that will capitalize on business opportunities across different industries and countries.

Khaled Al-Huraimel, BEEAH Group CEO

According to him, the organization’s brand-new headquarters reflect BEEAH Group’s identity as a sustainable icon.

The BEEAH Group headquarters is a command center for all BEEAH Group operations, as it has more than 10,000 employees and is growing. “This building is one of the smartest and most sustainable buildings in the region,” he added.

A primary area of focus for BEEAH Group is technology, and the organization believes that technology has many tools to help it achieve its goals, Al-Huraimel said. In that sector, BEEAH Group has three companies: Evoteq,, and One Data Center, a recent joint venture with Khazna to build Sharjah’s first data center.

He said the BEEAH Group headquarters operates using hundreds of artificial intelligence use cases.

At Tandeef, BEEAH Group’s waste collection business, the vehicles are all tracked, and the routing is also optimized by artificial intelligence.

The commercial and industrial recycling facility, a recent facility launched by BEEAH Recycling this year, has a robot with AI vision that can segregate different types of waste.

“So, we believe and embrace technology as it can help us create a better future and meet our targets,” Al-Huraimel said.

As part of its efforts in facilitating digital transformation, BEEAH Group also partnered with Khazna Data Centers recently to build Sharjah’s first Tier 3 data center.

Commenting on their JV with Khazna, the group CEO said that data centers have become necessary with the growth of cloud computing. This requires a great deal of data storage.

He added that Sharjah also needs a data center to support shortages and digitalization and become a more innovative city.

“In today’s world, it’s important to build a strong digital foundation and infrastructure,” said Al-Huraimel.

By harnessing the power of technology and innovative sustainable solutions, the BEEAH Group is paving the way for a better quality of life across the MENA region.

COP27 delegation

BEEAH Group has commenced operations in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh, including sustainable waste management services during the UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP27.

He said that the organization and Egypt’s Green Planet, an environmental solutions company, signed a contract in September to provide waste management and city cleaning services under the 10-year contract.

“We were awarded the waste management contract for Sharm El-Sheikh, and we have commenced our services before COP27,” he added.

The BEEAH Group also attended COP27 and represented the UAE as part of the UAE delegation.

Besides showcasing the organization’s groundbreaking projects, such as the UAE’s first waste-to-energy plant and the region’s first fully AI-integrated office building, BEEAH Group introduced the conference attendees to its recycling facilities and zero-waste solutions.

“We were proud to participate in COP27 as part of the UAE delegation. As a frontrunner in climate action, the UAE has made huge strides toward zero emissions; we are pleased to show how we support these targets through clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, and integrated waste management solutions,” said Al-Huraimel.

“I believe the UAE and the region have strong sustainability goals. We see that in the UAE, Saudi, Egypt, and so on,” he said, commenting on BEEAH Group’s attendance at COP27.

As the group CEO pointed out, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are two key markets for BEEAH Group, which will continue to expand over the next 18 months.

Geographic growth and diversification have been the main ways the group has grown. BEEAH has diversified into digital, energy consulting and health care.

“We targeted Saudi Arabia and Egypt for future expansion, as they are the two biggest markets for us in terms of size and recognition of the relationship between our countries,” he said.

Currently, the group focuses on growing in Saudi Arabia and Egypt by offering waste management services in both countries.

BEEAH Group also hopes to consolidate its position as a regional leader in waste management while looking at other government and private contracts.

FIFA World Cup is a match-winner for the regional property market

Updated 27 November 2022

FIFA World Cup is a match-winner for the regional property market

  • Taking place in the Arab world for the first time, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is an unprecedented event

RIYADH: Before the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, real estate prices were surging in Qatar and neighboring countries, causing people to rent their properties at high prices and cash in on the increased market demand.

Taking place in the Arab world for the first time, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is an unprecedented event.

During the tournament, FIFA Tournament Time Demand Model has forecast that upward of 1.7 million people will visit the host country, with 500,000 visitors on the busiest days. Because of this, visitors to the emirate of just 2.8 million people are concerned about accommodation or prefer to stay in neighboring countries.

Despite some concerns, organizers are reassuring people there would be enough accommodation for all fans. Thousands of hotel rooms FIFA had reserved were recently released to ease the crunch, possibly decreasing prices.

The authorities have continued to provide housing to all World Cup fans. Still, according to Doha News, landlords have recently capitalized on the opportunity to charge outrageous prices, though residents claim this is at their expense.

Doha News reported that residents are being evicted, asked to sign short-term or 24-month lease agreements, or even had their rent raised significantly.

The World Cup is widely responsible for this situation, with many believing landlords are trying to take advantage of the visitors’ profits, making living conditions challenging for long-term residents, Doha News added.

According to Qatari law, a lease renewal can increase rent by up to 10 percent. Still, Anum Hassan, head of research for Valustrat’s Qatar office, disclosed that rents have increased by 40 percent in some districts of Doha over the past year.

During the World Cup period in 2022, the government removed the price cap, allowing landlords to charge between SR15,500 ($4,124) and SR20,600 per night.

Booking a villa through Airbnb for 29 days of the World Cup costs at least SR48,860, but prices can reach hundreds of thousands.

Despite this, the real estate market continues to benefit from the games. A recent report from Property Finder, one of the region’s leading property technology companies, revealed a 2.97 percent increase in residential sales in September and October due to this month’s FIFA World Cup.

Afaf Hashim, the country manager at Property Finder in Qatar, said: “Investors and first-time property purchasers are now more confident to invest in the Qatari property market in response to renowned sporting events happening in the country.” 

Investors and first-time property purchasers are now more confident to invest in the Qatari property market in response to renowned sporting events happening in the country.

Afaf Hashim, Country manager at Property Finder in Qatar

“The Ministry of Justice is also taking the required actions to make the market more transparent, which will pave the way for further investments shortly,” she added.

According to the report, investors and end-users are increasingly interested in properties listed for sale in Qatar, which has recently emerged as a hot spot for property investment.

There was a 4.98 percent increase in leads but a 7.71 percent increase in impressions. Some areas saw considerable gains in rental prices, while others saw substantial declines. For instance, Al-Hilal’s rent fell by 83.9 percent, while Salata’s increased by 93.75 percent.

Adam Stewart, the Qatar head of Knight Frank, told Arab News that the tourism and hospitality sector will contribute 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, worth about $55 billion, by which time tourist arrivals are projected to reach 7 million.

Set the ball rolling

Knight Frank does not expect a slowdown in the Dubai real estate market’s demand in the short to medium term; in fact, the opposite is expected, Faisal Durrani, partner and head of research in the Middle East at Knight Frank, told Arab News. 

The mainstream market is expected to register price growth of 5-7 percent by the end of 2022, with a similar figure expected in 2023.

Faisal Durrani, Partner and head of research in the Middle East at Knight Frank

“The mainstream market is expected to register price growth of 5-7 percent by the end of 2022, with a similar figure expected in 2023,” he said.

He also added that a new wave of tourism is expected in Saudi Arabia’s Dammam Metropolitan Area following the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

“Following the Saudi government’s recent announcement to allow Qatar World Cup ticket holders easy access to multiple entry tourist visas, the Kingdom is expecting to play host to some of the football fans unable to be accommodated in Qatar,” he said.

As a result of its proximity to Qatar and relative affordability, Dammam is expected to be a popular alternative to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama during the World Cup, he added.

However, Alex Galtsev, founder and CEO of Realiste, a personal artificial intelligence firm on real estate investing, believes Qatar’s FIFA 2022 World Cup will benefit the Middle East real estate market.

“As a major tourist attraction and financial hub in the region, Dubai will be the main beneficiary outside Qatar,” he told Arab News.

There has already been an increase in demand for local hotel chains and resorts. “Because of limited accommodation options, tourists had to seek alternative options that were more affordable, such as short-term rentals. In turn, this has led to a 50 percent increase in rental prices in Dubai over the last three months,” Galtsev added.

Qatar’s FIFA guests opted for areas near downtown where the major tourist attractions are located rather than cheap suburban locations surrounded by desert. As a result, the districts near the waterfront are the following most popular renting areas.

However, Galtsev said that the demand for the short-time rental would significantly decrease after the event.

Despite these soaring prices and owners renting out their properties, what matters is the result and how they will affect the market overall.


Johnson & Johnson develops digital solutions to reduce time spent in hospitals

Updated 27 November 2022

Johnson & Johnson develops digital solutions to reduce time spent in hospitals

RIYADH: Johnson & Johnson, the global medical technology provider, is providing digital solutions that will shorten the time spent by patients in hospitals.

According to Marzena Kulis, managing director of Johnson & Johnson MedTech Middle East, the move is crucial in countries with lower bed capacity.

“The digital solutions that we currently offer help to shorten the time of patients’ stay, so the capacity can absorb more patients, especially in the geographies where capacity is limited,” Kulis said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“Our digital procedure software empowers, for example, surgical teams to design, apply and analyze surgical workflows. It provides valuable data analytics to reduce variability in surgery time, improve procedural efficiency and enhance education approaches,” she said.

Johnson & Johnson MedTech provides a broad range of medical technology devices used in interventional solutions, orthopedics and surgery. Their offerings include products to treat cardiovascular diseases, hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke, and a combination of products supporting hips, knees, trauma, spine and others.

“We want to strengthen this industry by tapping the full potential of technology to save and sustain and improve lives of patients through a wide array of potential technologies that can be applied in the healthcare sector,” she said. 

The company’s surgery portfolios include advanced and general surgery offerings. These devices are used predominantly in the professional fields by physicians, nurses, hospitals, eyecare professionals and clinics, according to a statement issued by the company.

“We apply the expertise in medical devices and advanced technology to ensure that our healthcare solutions are smarter, less invasive, and more personalized,” Kulis added.

The healthtech provider participated in the 33rd Annual Conference of the Saudi Heart Association, one of the largest cardiac meetings in the Middle East that were held in Riyadh from Oct. 13-15.

Heart of the matter

The company unveiled its “Get Smart About AFib” global campaign at the conference with cardiac scientists, caregivers, and several cardiac working groups to improve care and treatment for patients suffering from atrial fibrillation, or AFib.

AFib is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia, and nearly one in four adults currently over the age of 40 across the globe is at risk of developing it. According to statistics from Saudi Health Ministry, cardiovascular diseases account for 37 percent of all deaths in the Kingdom.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the disease to help reduce risks.

The health campaign will specifically focus on supporting education and detection of the life-threatening AFib condition that impacts nearly 40 million people globally.

Johnson & Johnson MedTech has been operating in the region for a couple of decades, establishing a headquarters in Riyadh back in 2017, along with two other offices in Jeddah and Dammam.

The US-based company employs around 180 people in Saudi Arabia, nearly half of them Saudis, with a target to increase its Saudization rates by 20 percent in the next couple of years.

“We are getting close to 50 percent in our medtech business, and we aim to grow by 10-20 percent in the next year or two,” said Kulis.

Kulis believes that the Saudi market is steadily growing and becoming one of the largest emerging markets for Johnson & Johnson. 

The digital solutions that we currently offer help to shorten the time of patients’ stay, so the capacity can absorb more patients, especially in the geographies where capacity is limited.

Marzena Kulis, Johnson & Johnson MedTech Middle East managing director

Saudi Arabia is planning to build medical facilities worth $13.8 billion by 2030, according to Faisal Durrani, Knight Frank’s partner and head of research in the Middle East.

“Vision 2030 has sharpened the focus on the public realm, liveability and habitability of Saudi cities. Wellness and well-being sit at its heart, with $13.8 billion worth of medical facilities expected to be built by the end of the decade,” Durrani told Arab News.

Digital health

The expenditure is part of a more comprehensive plan to invest $66.67 billion in the Kingdom’s healthcare infrastructure and boost private sector participation to 65 percent by 2030, targeting the privatization of 290 hospitals and 2,300 primary health centers.

“We look into the development of healthcare in the countries we operate in, and the healthcare market in Saudi Arabia is steadily growing, and we’ve seen and observed that for decades, and the forecast is to continue growing for the next decades as well,” Kulis said.

The Kingdom is expected to be the fastest-growing digital health market in the Gulf Cooperation Council, with the government allocating $1.5 billion for healthcare information technology and digital transformation programs.

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel said during the opening of the digital event of the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society last year that digital technologies were one of the essential tools for dealing with the pandemic.

It helped develop the first interactive map of COVID-19 data, providing accurate statistics and employing AI to analyze data and make national strategic decisions.

The Kingdom is allocating about 14.4 percent of its 2022 budget to healthcare and social development, which amounts to $36.8 billion, the third largest expense after education and military, according to Dubai-based Omnia Health, a global medical directory.

With life expectancy in Saudi Arabia projected to increase from 76.4 to 81.8 years by 2050 and the Kingdom’s population expected to grow to 39.4 million by 2030, increased investment in the healthcare infrastructure and innovation is necessary to drive strong growth in the Kingdom’s healthcare sector, the medical directory reported.