June 18, 2019 / 10:44 AM / 6 months ago

Lebanon's Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri addresses his supporters during a commemoration ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of the assassination of his father in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir//File Photo

The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.

“What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.

Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.

Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.

Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.

Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.

“We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.

“For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity...to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.

After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a programme of investments towards which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing.

Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond

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