September 6, 2019 / 11:30 AM / 14 days ago

Lebanon PM Hariri: France says satisfied with investment plan progress

BEIRUT (Reuters) - France’s president is satisfied with Lebanon’s progress on starting an infrastructure investment program, the Lebanese Prime Minister’s office said on Friday, a day after a French envoy criticized the speed at which Lebanon is reforming its economy.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Foreign governments and donor institutions last year pledged $11 billion in financing to Lebanon for a 12-year infrastructure investment program at the “Cedre” conference in Paris, on condition that it carries out reforms.

With one of the world’s highest debt burdens, low growth and crumbling infrastructure, Lebanon’s economy is struggling and authorities are seeking to implement reforms to ward off a crisis.

The office of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri reported the comment by French President Emmanuel Macron after the two men discussed the issue by telephone.

Macron called Hariri after French diplomat Pierre Duquesne concluded a four-day visit to Lebanon to assess Beirut’s progress on starting work on the infrastructure projects and other reforms.

Duquesne himself said that the donors’ funding offers still stand, but stressed that Lebanese authorities need to speed up reforms, pass a state budget for 2020 this year and decide which of the 250 infrastructure projects will take priority.

“Donors are still ready to help, provided that things happen in the required and right way,” he said.

Funding has not yet begun to flow, he said, because Lebanon was without a government for nine months following elections last year.

“And even after (government) formation, donors continue to question the Lebanese government. This view is shared by all donors,” Duquesne said.

He was also critical of how some Lebanese politicians were approaching the urgency of the economic problems in the country.

“There are some people still believe that there is a miracle solution, a magical solution to solve all the problems. This does not exist.”

“Time is running out and we cannot continue with the endless debates,” he added.

On Monday Lebanese politicians declared a “state of economic emergency”. Hariri said the government would take emergency measures to speed up reforms, including holding more meetings.

Writing by Lisa Barrington, Editing by William Maclean

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