Lebanon MPs bicker over World Bank loan for the poor

A view shows Lebanon's Central Bank building in Beirut, Lebanon February 10, 2021. The World Bank cash assistance is aimed at setting up a stronger social safety net for 800,000 of Lebanon’s most vulnerable citizens amid an economic and health crisis. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 February 2021

Lebanon MPs bicker over World Bank loan for the poor

  • $246m cash relief sparks angry debate amid fears of looming social chaos

BEIRUT: Lebanese government hopes of accessing an emergency $246 million World Bank loan to help the country’s poor have been thrown into chaos as parliamentarians bicker over details of the relief package.

The World Bank cash assistance is aimed at setting up a stronger social safety net for 800,000 of Lebanon’s most vulnerable citizens amid an economic and health crisis that has left up to half the country’s population facing growing deprivation.

The spiralling collapse has led to three-digit inflation and fears that up to 20 percent of Lebanese could be plunged into extreme poverty.

With little hope of an end to the political stalemate and economic experts predicting the central bank will cut subsidies of essential goods in coming weeks, the caretaker government has been desperate to access the $246 million World Bank loan to stave off widening social chaos in the country.

The deteriorating economic situation was highlighted on Wednesday when the dollar reached 9,000 Lebanese pounds on the black market.

However, hopes the World Bank emergency cash could be used quickly were dented on Tuesday when a draft law to sign the loan treaty became the subject of a heated parliamentary debate.

While some MPs said the loan details are “ambiguous and the mechanism of distribution unclear,” others claimed that the package should be linked with a halt to smuggling across the border with Syria.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said that the government was seeking to approve projects without scrutiny due to the economic crisis and people’s pressing needs.

“This also affects Lebanon’s sovereignty,” he said.

MPs also disagreed over whether the loan should be donated to needy families at an exchange rate of 6,240 Lebanese pounds to the dollar or in US dollars.

Other MPs expressed fears the loan funds could be exploited for political purposes.

The World Bank has estimated that 1.7 million Lebanese are likely to fall into poverty, with up to 841,000 people facing food shortages.

Michel Abboud, president of Caritas-Lebanon, said that the charity has tens of thousands of struggling families on its lists.

“We have been in the social field for 50 years, and we are seeing more poor people joining the lists as a result of the loss of family income due to the exceptional situation in the country,” he said.

Following talks between the Lebanese government and the World Bank about the loan, an expert told Arab News: “Initially, the loan was worth $600 million, but during negotiations between 2011 and 2020, the amount decreased to $246 million. The World Bank had comments related to monitoring due to mismanagement, noting that Lebanon does not have clear surveys that show the poverty rate.”

Ziad Abdel Samad, executive director of the Arab NGO Network for Development, said: “The World Bank refused to hand over any money to the Lebanese authorities due to lack of trust and reforms.”

However, he said that amid the “Lebanon’s harsh reality,” the bank offered the loan to help people “survive in the face of suffocating crises.”

Samad added that “politicians defending sovereignty is an attempt for parties to further control the management of the program funds.”

International groups should be overseeing the loan distribution, he claimed.

“This aid will vanish in the crisis,” Samad said.

Oil rises above $67 in fifth day of gains on demand hopes

Updated 6 min 10 sec ago

Oil rises above $67 in fifth day of gains on demand hopes

  • Brent on track for weekly gain of about 7%
  • U.S., China economic recoveries bolster sentiment

LONDON: Oil rose above $67 a barrel on Friday, gaining for a fifth session, as a stronger demand outlook and signs of economic recovery in China and the United States offset rising COVID-19 infections in some other major economies.
China’s first-quarter gross domestic product jumped 18.3% year on year, official data showed on Friday. On Thursday figures showed a rise in US retail sales and a drop in unemployment claims.
“Given the improving outlook for the world’s two biggest economies, there is little chance of the market’s feel-good glow being extinguished any time soon,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
Brent crude rose 26 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $67.20 a barrel by 0950 GMT, heading for a weekly gain of about 7 percent. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude added 16 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $63.62.
New US sanctions imposed on Russia, one of the world’s top oil producers, over alleged election interference and hacking could also support prices.
“Though they do not affect the oil sector directly, they could lead to higher financing costs and general uncertainty in trade with Russia,” said Eugen Weinberg of Commerzbank.
Helping the rally this week, the International Energy Agency and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) both made upward revisions to oil demand growth forecasts for 2021.
Figures on Wednesday also showed US crude inventories fell by 5.9 million barrels.
Demand hopes offset concern about rising coronavirus cases in other big economies. India’s infection rate hit a record high while Germany’s chancellor on Friday said a third wave of the virus has the country in its grip.
Oil has recovered from pandemic-induced lows last year, helped by record cuts to oil output by OPEC and its allies, a group known as OPEC+.
Some of the OPEC+ cuts will be eased from May, with the group meeting on April 28 to consider further tweaks to the supply pact.

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

Updated 16 April 2021

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

  • Smallest vials sell for SR400 ($106).
  • Harvest falls during Ramadan this year

TAIF: Every spring, roses bloom in the western Saudi city of Taif, turning pockets of the Kingdom’s vast desert landscape a vivid and fragrant pink.
In April, they are harvested for the essential oil used to cleanse the outer walls of the sacred Kaaba in Makkah.
This year, the harvest falls during Ramadan.
Workers at the Bin Salman farm tend rose bushes and pick tens of thousands of flowers each day to produce rose water and oil, also prized components in the cosmetic and culinary industries.
The perfumed oil has become popular among the millions of Muslims who visit the Kingdom every year for pilgrimages.
Patterns of plants and flowers have long been part of Islamic art.
Known as the city of roses, with approximately 300 million blooms every year, Taif has more than 800 flower farms, many of which have opened their doors to visitors.
While workers pick flowers in the fields, others labor in sheds, filling and weighing baskets by hand.
The flowers are then boiled and distilled.
“We start boiling the roses on high heat until they are almost evaporated, and this takes around 30 to 35 minutes,” Khalaf Al-Tuweiri, who owns the Bin Salman farm, told AFP.
“After that we lower the heat for around 15 to 30 minutes until the distilling process starts, which lasts for eight hours.”
Once the oil floats to the top of the glass jars, the extraction process begins.
The oil is then extracted with a large syringe to fill different-sized vials, the smallest going for SR400 ($106).

Binladin International carries out largest debt restructuring in the region

Updated 16 April 2021

Binladin International carries out largest debt restructuring in the region

  • As much as 75% of Binladin's debts are held by Saudi banks
  • Formal agreement with creditors may be reached by end June

RIYADH: Saudi Binladin International Holding is carrying out the largest debt restructuring in the Middle East, close to SR33 billion ($8.7 billion), with as much as 75 percent involving Saudi banks, said CEO Khalid Al Gwaiz on Thursday.
The company has obtained principal approvals from creditors for the debt restructuring and hopes to reach a formal agreement with them by the end of June and a final agreement by September, Al Gwaiz told Al Arabiya.
Binladin has an integrated transformation program that includes budget structuring and changes to its business model with the aim of helping it cope with recent developments in the market, he said.
The regional construction sector has been hit hard by the weakening of oil prices since 2014 and the associated decline in the real estate sector which has plunged some of the industry’s biggest names into financial distress.
Binladin has identified about SR1 trillion of opportunities in the Kingdom’s construction market linked to huge government projects that will allow it to pay creditors, Al Gwaiz said.

Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

Updated 16 April 2021

Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

  • Insurer says it made a generous offer on April 12
  • Crew of Ever Given remains on board ship

RIYADH: The insurance company for the Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week in March, said it was disappointed by the court order to detain the vessel until $900 million compensation is paid after it had already made a generous offer to settle the claim.

The offer to the Suez Canal Authority was made in cooperation with the Japanese company that owns the ship on April 12th, Al Arabiya reported. However, the ship, its cargo and crew are being held until an agreement is reached, said the insurance company, UK Protection and Indemnity Club.

The Economic Court in Ismailia, Egypt, approved a request submitted by the Suez Canal Authority on Monday, to seize on the ship until $900 million is paid to cover the cost of freeing the ship and the disruption to traffic on the canal.

The insurer described the figure as “huge” and unjustified and said it is working with all concerned parties to ensure the release of the ship, its cargo and 25-person crew.

The Ever Given, currently in the Great Bitter Lake region, will move to Port Said for further examination, the insurance company said.

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

  • Replacing lights will cut power consumption by 70%

RIYADH: The National Energy Efficiency Services Company (NESCO) will replace 74,000 traditional “sodium” lamps with other smart systems (LED) lights, in 8 municipalities of the Riyadh region.

Agreements between NESCO, also known as Tarshid, and municipalities were signed on Wednesday, SPA reported.

The LEDs will reduce power consumption by more than 70 percent, avoiding more than 48,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to planting 810,000 trees.

The agreements aim to set unified standards for street lighting at the international level, in accordance with the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO).

Tarshid has completed 12 previous agreements with the region’s municipalities, and will soon sign 27 agreements to include the remaining 47 municipalities, CEO Walid bin Abdullah Al-Ghariri said.