Lebanon News

Cabinet approves Hariri's economic plan

Cabinet meets at Baabda Palace to discuss Prime Minister Saad Hariri's plan, Oct. 21, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Ministers Monday afternoon approved an economic blueprint put forward by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in an attempt to appease protesters demanding the mass resignation of the country's political leaders.

Cabinet also approved the draft 2020 state budget, just a day before the constitutional deadline expires.

Progressive Socialist Party ministers withdrew from the session just minutes before it ended.

Cabinet convened at Baabda Palace Monday morning to discuss the economic plan.

Security forces deployed to block the road leading to the presidential palace, in order to prevent protesters from gathering and attempting to access the building.

Hariri met with President Michel Aoun at Baabda at around 10:20 a.m., ahead of the Cabinet session, which began around 11 a.m.

A tweet from the president's office at around 1:30 p.m. said that discussions on Hariri's proposed reforms were "calm and positive," and that ministers had approved a number of articles from the blueprint.

However, local media reported that ministers from the Free Patriotic Movement, including Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, were involved in a heated exchange with the two Progressive Socialist Party ministers, Education Minister Akram Chehayeb and Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour. Other local media outlets published denials of the report.

Hariri’s blueprint, drawn up after two days of discussions with various parties in the government, contains a series of reforms to go alongside the draft 2020 state budget, but, crucially, does not include any new taxes.

According to a political source, these reforms include the closure of state-funded councils and funds, a 50 percent cut to the salaries of current and former state officials, $3.3 billion in contributions from banks to reduce the deficit, the privatization of the telecoms sector and an overhaul of the electricity sector, which runs at an annual deficit of around $2 billion.

Many of the proposals have been made before, but with less urgency. None of the proposals made public thus far appear to address the main demand of protesters – that officials resign and be held accountable.

Via Twitter, Aoun said that the protests were an expression of the pain of the Lebanese people, but that it was unfair to accuse all in the government of being corrupt.

Instead, he said that banking secrecy should be lifted from the accounts of both current and former officials.

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets since Thursday, demanding the resignation of the government and the return of “stolen money.”

On Friday, Hariri gave 72 hours for political parties to discuss ways to implement reforms to salvage the situation, in what many interpreted to be a threat that he may resign Monday.

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces announced Saturday night that the party's four ministers would submit their resignations.

Abu Faour, meanwhile, said Sunday that the PSP was against a Cabinet resignation, warning of financial collapse in the event of a government vacuum.





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