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Monday, Oct 02, 2023

Lebanon parliament postpones budget talks, slowing IMF reform checklist

Lebanon parliament postpones budget talks, slowing IMF reform checklist

Lebanon's parliament on Friday suspended talks on the 2022 budget after a walk-out by lawmakers sent attendance below quorum, further delaying efforts to complete requirements to access IMF funds to relieve its economic crisis.
A group of parliamentarians, including newly-elected lawmakers who ran on a reform platform, a bloc of Christian MPs and others, walked out over the "chaotic" discussions.

"It's unconstitutional and chaotic. (Other lawmakers) were saying let's change this, change that, add here, add there, without studying anything. This is how we're going to do this?” Halima Kaakour, a first-time lawmaker, told Reuters.

Speaker Nabih Berri scheduled the next session for Sept. 26, following the return of Prime Minister Najib Mikati from trips to London for Queen Elizabeth's funeral and New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Lebanon has been trapped in an economic meltdown since 2019 that has impoverished more than 80% of the population and drained state coffers.

An April staff-level agreement between Lebanon's government and the International Monetary Fund called on authorities to increase revenues to fund the crippled public sector and more social spending by calculating customs taxes at a "unified exchange rate".

Lebanese authorities still calculate customs tariffs – a key source of state revenues – at the old peg of 1,505 Lebanese lira per dollar.

MPs had debated re-calculating it to between 12,000 to 14,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar even as the market rate was at 38,000 on Friday.

Lebanon's economy minister told Reuters he was "very concerned" the budget would not satisfy the IMF, which did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on Friday.

Lebanon has barely advanced on the IMF's 10 pre-requisites due to resistance from political factions, commercial banks and powerful private lobby groups.

"There's been slow progress in implementing some of the critical actions that we think are required to move forward with a programme," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told a news briefing on Thursday, saying a staff mission would visit Lebanon next week to discuss ways to "speed up" required reforms.
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