SAT 4 - 4 - 2020
Mar 26, 2020
The Daily Star
Lebanon: Defense council recommends lockdown extension
Cabinet set to extend state of "general mobilization" for 15 days
BEIRUT: Lebanon's Higher Defense Council Thursday recommended to the government a two-week extension to a nationwide lockdown over coronavirus, official sources said.
Shortly after the council's session, chaired by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, Cabinet met and is expected to recommend the extension of the state of “general mobilization,” which expires March 29, for another 15 days.
The council also discussed the results of the measures that have so far been taken, what additional measures must be taken against the spread of the virus and the deteriorating economic and social conditions in light of the lockdown measures.
The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a number of ministers, Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun and other heads of security and military apparatuses.
Cabinet set to extend state of "general mobilization" for 15 days
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Cabinet is set Thursday to extend for 15 days the state of “general mobilization” it had announced earlier this month to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, an official source said Wednesday.
“The Cabinet is headed for the extension of the period of the state of general mobilization for 15 days to face the spread of the coronavirus and decide the costs of tests and treatment for the coronavirus-infected people,” the official source told The Daily Star.
The Cabinet is slated to meet at 11 a.m. Thursday in a session to be chaired by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace to address some 11 items on the agenda.
It is expected to resume discussions on the deteriorating economic and social conditions in light of the lockdown measures following the declaration of a state of “general mobilization” by the government on March 15 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has so far infected 343 people and killed six.
The source said the Cabinet session would be preceded by a meeting of the Higher Defense Council at 10 a.m. to be chaired by Aoun, and attended by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a number of ministers, Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun and heads of security and military apparatuses. The council’s meeting is expected to recommend the extension of the state of “general mobilization,” which expires March 29, for 15 days.
After an extraordinary Cabinet session that followed a meeting of the Higher Defense Council on March 15 to explore measures to face the escalating threat of the coronavirus pandemic, Diab announced a state of “general mobilization” across the country that fell short of a state of military emergency but brought life and businesses to a complete standstill. The lockdown measures called, among other things, for the closure of the Rafik Hariri International Airport, seaports and land borders, as well as public and private institutions, and for citizens to stay at home in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
With regard to long-awaited appointments to fill vacant key positions in the public administration, the official source said the Cabinet was expected to appoint four deputy governors to Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh, after the terms of the current deputies expired in March last year.
Differences among major parties in the previous government had prevented the appointment of four deputy governors in the Central Bank.
Likewise, the Cabinet is expected to appoint five members of the Banking Control Committee, as well as members of the Financial Markets Commission, the source said.
The forthcoming appointments in the Banque du Liban were believed to have been discussed during a meeting Wednesday between Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. One of the BDL’s four deputy governors is a Shiite, who is usually nominated by Berri.
During the meeting held at the speaker’s Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri underlined the need for the government to provide all necessities for the protection of the Lebanese, whether they are here or in the diaspora, from the coronavirus.
Berri called on the government to secure the return of Lebanese expatriates, especially those who live in Africa and in European countries, to Lebanon after the spread of the coronavirus in Europe and in some African countries, according to a statement released by the speaker’s media office.
Diab, the statement said, was very cooperative and would deliberate with the ministerial committee for combating coronavirus on how to address this issue.
Berri and Diab reviewed the lockdown measures taken by the government and the means to implement them strictly in order to curb the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The two also discussed the financial and economic situation and how to fortify the country amid the current crisis, the statement said.
The official source said a controversial draft law on capital control, designed to organize the relationship between banks and clients amid a scarcity of U.S. dollars, might be addressed by the Cabinet as part of ongoing discussions on the crippling economic and financial crisis, the worst in decades.
“The capital control bill is not an independent item on the agenda. But it might be brought up by ministers as part of ongoing deliberations on the economic and financial situation,” the source said.
Amid opposition from Berri and other political groups, including Hezbollah, the fate of the capital control bill, prepared by Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, appeared to be in jeopardy.
Wazni, who is loyal to Berri, was reported to have withdrawn the bill during Tuesday’s Cabinet session chaired by Diab at the Grand Serail.
Wazni told Diab during the session that he would no longer proceed with the capital control bill because it had drawn “many remarks” from ministers.
Industry Minister Imad Hoballah, one of two Hezbollah ministers, also criticized the capital control proposal, saying it violated the law and favored the banks. “We don’t want to offer a favor to bankers against depositors,” Hoballah was reported to have said during Tuesday’s Cabinet session.
Berri also opposed the capital control bill, arguing it constituted “a clear violation of the Constitution, in addition to harming the depositors and infringing on their rights.”
Diab said last week that there would be “losers” from the capital control bill that also aims to “organize and place temporary extraordinary constraints on some banking operations and services.”
A political source said the proposed capital control bill aims to protect banks at the expense of depositors. “The draft law serves the banks’ interests and legitimizes the policy of rationing used by banks with regard to depositors’ withdrawals and transfers,” the source said.
Amid a dollar liquidity crunch, Lebanese banks have imposed in past months unprecedented rigid capital controls on clients’ withdrawals and transfers, raising fears about depositors’ savings in U.S. dollars.
The capital control bill has also raised fears of a haircut on bank deposits as part of the government’s efforts to restructure Lebanon’s soaring public debt, which has exceeded $90 billion, long among the largest in the world, and is now equivalent to nearly 170 percent of its gross domestic product.
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