SUN 8 - 12 - 2019
Date: Jun 28, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Cabinet doubles down on CEDRE implementation
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Cabinet Thursday decided to hold a series of meetings devoted to following up on the implementation of the CEDRE conference’s decisions and the McKinsey plan to stimulate Lebanon’s stagnant economy.

The move reflects Cabinet’s determination to carry out key economic and fiscal reforms. It also comes as Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee is still examining the draft 2019 state budget, which contains a string of austerity measures, including cuts to public spending and tax hikes, designed to slash the deficit, a key demand of international donors.

The draft budget, which was endorsed by the Cabinet on May 27 after 20 sessions and is waiting to be ratified by Parliament next month, seeks to reduce Lebanon’s deficit to 7.59 percent of gross domestic product from 11.1 percent last year.

Chairing a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail that discussed a 40-item agenda, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the Cabinet would hold sessions devoted to following up on the implementation of the decisions of the CEDRE conference and the McKinsey economic plan, Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour told reporters after the meeting.

The U.S.-based consultancy firm McKinsey & Company last year presented the Lebanese government with a wide-ranging, long-term plan to diversify and modernize the productive sectors of Lebanon’s economy, which is saddled with a soaring national debt of $85 billion, equivalent to about 150 percent of gross domestic product, slow growth and a high budget deficit.

Lebanon is under international pressure to enact key economic and financial reforms recommended at the CEDRE conference to bolster its weak economy. The reforms are deemed crucial to unlocking over $11 billion in grants and soft loans pledged by international donors at the CEDRE conference, held in Paris last year.Hariri reiterated the government’s rejection of the so-called deal of the century, the controversial U.S. proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“The position of the Lebanese government is clear. We are against this project and there is unanimity in Lebanon on rejecting it, expressed by all the components and institutions in Lebanon,” Hariri said

“Lebanon’s position is based on the Arab League and Beirut summit resolutions. Our Constitution is clear and forbids resettlement [of Palestinian refugees] and emphasizes the right of return,” he added.

Abu Faour said Hariri’s stance gained the support of all ministers.

Hariri’s position came on the same day Hezbollah’s parliamentary Loyalty to the Resistance bloc denounced the U.S. plan and urged the Lebanese government to adopt “a clear political position condemning the deal, rejecting participation in it and warning of its dangerous consequences on Lebanon’s security and stability.”

While the plan has not been published in full, observers have said it appears to offer an implicit deal to Lebanon and the other countries to absorb Palestinian refugees in exchange for aid worth billions of dollars.

In a tweet before the Cabinet session, Hariri praised a draft law passed by Parliament a day earlier that aims to combat public-sector corruption.

The law, which establishes a national anti-corruption commission, was “an essential reform step on the path to establishing the rule of law and regulating the work of institutions,” Hariri wrote. “Alongside laws concerning access to information and protecting whistleblowers, the law contributes to restoring confidence and implementing CEDRE decisions.”

Later Thursday, Hariri said the challenge facing Lebanese officials was to restore confidence in the state.

“The strength of Lebanon stems from the strength of its society and institutions, embraced by the state in the framework of the liberal system and public freedoms, consecrated by the 1926 Constitution and confirmed by the amended 1991 Constitution as stipulated in the national reconciliation document in Taif in 1989,” Hariri said in a speech at a commencement ceremony at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik.

“But it is also enhanced by confidence, the regained confidence in the state. I honestly tell you that the challenge facing the officials today, at any level, is to regain this confidence. And I am personally aware of this challenge.”

During the ceremony, Hariri was awarded an honorary doctorate, in the presence of a number of official and academic figures, a statement from the premier’s media office said.

In discussing the agenda, the Cabinet approved most items - most importantly a number of draft laws and a number of loans and grants from China, the European Bank, the World Bank and Turkey, Abu Faour said.

He added that the Cabinet also approved a number of agreements and memorandums of understanding with several states including Armenia, the Russian Federation, Egypt, Serbia and Gabon.

Ministers also approved a draft decree to implement Article 73 of Law 220, dated May 29, 2000, known as the law of the rights of the disabled, which calls for allocating 3 percent of public-sector jobs to persons with special needs.

Asked if the Cabinet discussed sit-ins and street protests staged by military veterans against articles in the draft budget taxing their pensions, Abu Faour said: “They were discussed and there is a general feeling in the Cabinet that, in many cases, things go beyond the logic that must be adopted in some of the demands put forward. Some movements and statements also depart from the logic that must be respected by every right holder.”

Military veterans blocked off some of Lebanon’s main highways early Thursday morning, causing heavy traffic, in protest against the draft budget’s proposed austerity measures that would affect their pensions and retirement benefits.

The protests, which began at 5 a.m. on highways in Dahr al-Baidar, Kesrouan’s Tabarja, Madfoun and Naameh, south of Beirut, were scheduled to last until 10 a.m. However, by about 9 a.m., veterans had reopened the highways at the request of the Army command. Protesters were seen clearing away the cars and burning tires they had used to block the roads.

The Army had released a statement calling on the protesters to open the roads, but emphasized its “full solidarity with the rightful demands of the retired military personnel, as this directly impacts their livelihood, their pride and their families’ pride.”

Meanwhile, the Finance and Budget Committee approved in its evening session Thursday the budget allocations for the Labor and Health ministries, the state-run National News Agency reported.

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