Without real surprise, and while serial robberies took place yesterday in several regions of Lebanon, led by depositors exasperated by the banking restrictions in place since the start of the crisis three years ago, the vote on the 2022 draft budget did not end yesterday in Parliament. . Just two hours before the start of the debates, the Speaker of the House Nabih Berry thus closed the session due to lack of quorum and postponed it to Monday 26 September.
Shortly before the session was suspended, the legislative leader felt there was an “attempt” to cause the lack of a quorum. He urged MPs to approve the budget on Friday, saying that otherwise he would have to suspend the session for “eight or nine days”. While admitting that the budget was not optimal, he called on MPs to do their best to improve it.
This parliamentary session, scheduled for three days, had already started badly on Wednesday, also canceled due to lack of quorum. In the past two days, therefore, the deputies would have met to adopt the annual state budget that should have been finalized at the end of 2021. Its adoption, moreover, is one of the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to unlock a aid of three billion dollars in four years and thereby restore Lebanon’s finances. An IMF delegation will arrive in Beirut on Monday for a three-day mission to “try to speed up” the process of implementing the priority reforms envisaged in the preliminary agreement signed with Lebanon at the end of April.
Shout out for the customs dollar
At around 4 pm yesterday, Parliament then began voting on the articles of the 2022 budget. According to the press office of Nabih Berry, the House approved the tripling of the salaries of civil servants, including pensioners, security forces and contractors. In concrete terms, this represents “an envelope of 2.490 billion Lebanese pounds a month”, according to a source in Parliament. A vote that will finally become the first and last of the session, the subsequent evocation of the customs dollar that will cause a sensation in the room.
“While three rates (12,000, 14,000 and 20,000 pounds per dollar) were being studied, Prime Minister-designate Nagib Mikati proposed to adopt a rate of 15,000 per dollar for a short period and grant the government the prerogatives to modify it later. A position that then prompted several deputies to leave the meeting, and therefore to torpedo the quorum. Before the interruption of the session, the deputies had therefore discussed only the second article, that of expenditure. “If the government had adopted correct and clear six months ago, we would have adopted the budget six months ago “, said MP Ibrahim Kanaan, contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour.
The reactions of the deputies
Among the deputies who withdrew from the session was Ghassan Hasbani (Lebanese Forces, Beirut II), who told al-Jadeed TV that he left the session because he did not want to be “a false witness”. He stated that the basis and numbers of the project are “chaotic” and that “no budget is better than the current budget”. After the suspension, MP Georges Adwan (FL, Chouf) said his party caused the loss of the quorum. “At the last moment, changes and increases were made to the budget data. We discussed the document without closing the accounts, which is unacceptable “, he continued.” We are ready to stay in Parliament and sleep here until a good budget with good numbers is approved, but the current way of working does not respect the law. “
For his part, MP Ali Hassan Khalil (Amal, South III) said he considered withdrawing from the session a “democratic right”, but added that Lebanese citizens are the only ones to be harmed by the lack of a budget. The vice-president of the Parliament, Elias Bou Saab, also commented on the heated discussions within the hemicycle. “That’s not how you talk about a budget,” he said after the session was suspended. Those who created the chaos must know that it did no one good. He added that perhaps he did not vote in favor of the draft budget, but was open to discussion, concluding that “there are legitimate requests, but we are not getting anywhere”.
Outgoing Finance Minister Youssef Khalil said the 2022 budget seeks to mimic that of more developed countries by prioritizing health and food supply. “The difference is that the Lebanese government’s resources are limited,” he commented. Finally, in a statement released during the session, the Prime Minister said that Parliament should “put the national interest above populism”. “We must not remain in a state of denial,” added Nagib Mikati, who spoke at length on various aspects of this file.
“Over the past few years, spending has been $ 17 billion. This year they amount to a billion dollars and we are also trying to balance expenses and income, ”said the prime minister in particular. “We have been asked a lot of questions about the state of road infrastructure,” he said, adding that Lebanon needed “about 3.7 trillion Lebanese pounds for road maintenance, or $ 100 million”. However, in the budget, the endowment allocated to this item is only 250 billion pounds, or about 6 million dollars, the chief executive noted.
Nagib Mikati also warned that the absence of a budget agreement condemned the country to continue operating under the provisional twelfth rule (or at least according to the very broad interpretation that the authorities have been making for years). Which, in practice, means that expenses and income will always be calculated at an exchange rate of 1,507.5 pounds per dollar, the prime minister reiterated.
It also indicated that the Ministry of Finance has started preparing the preliminary draft budget for 2023, ensuring that there are no delays in relation to the constitutional deadlines.
Without real surprise, and while serial robberies took place yesterday in several regions of Lebanon, led by depositors exasperated by the banking restrictions in place since the start of the crisis three years ago, the vote on the 2022 draft budget did not end yesterday in Parliament. . Just two hours after the debates began, House Speaker Nabih …