November 28, 2019 / 1:28 PM / 12 days ago

Lebanese lawmakers to approve 2020 budget this year: committee chief

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Lebanese parliament’s budget and finance committee will approve the 2020 budget by year-end and the next government must adopt it, the committee head said on Thursday, as the country seeks to break a political deadlock and pull itself from crisis.

FILE PHOTO: A banner is seen at a petrol station in Beirut, Lebanon November 28, 2019. The banner reads: "Strike!! Strike!! Because we can't buy the U.S. dollar". REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Ibrahim Kanaan said quick action was needed to restore confidence after Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri quit amid protests on Oct. 29, leaving Lebanon drifting politically as it grapples with the worst economic conditions in decades.

“Before the end of next month, the holiday season ... we will have finished the debate and approval of the 2020 budget,” he told a televised news conference. “It is not possible for the new government not to adopt this budget because when this budget is approved it will become a law.”

Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, has said he will not be premier in a new government. The post is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.

Without a clear frontrunner for the post there is no indication when consultations to designate a new prime minister might begin.

President Michel Aoun said in a tweet that “the current situation cannot bear conditions and counter conditions,” an apparent reference to stalled talks for a new government.

‘LEBANON STILL STANDING’

Kanaan acknowledged serious financial difficulties but said it was not the case “as is rumored” that Lebanon faces bankruptcy or collapse.

He said treasury revenues had been almost non-existent for the last 45 days, but assured hard-hit Lebanese that public-sector salaries would be paid.

The government paid off a $1.5 billion Eurobond on Thursday, which it hopes will reassure investors of Lebanon’s willingness to meet steep debt obligations but a further blow to dwindling dollar reserves.

“Today we must pass this budget in order for us to say to the world that Lebanon is still standing and has not fallen,” said Kanaan.

Protests against a ruling class seen as looting Lebanon have slowed an already weak economy. Many businesses have shed jobs or slashed salaries and moved workers onto part time.

An acute dollar shortage has meanwhile led commercial banks to impose tight restrictions on the transfer and withdrawal of hard currency, sowing concerns among depositors.

Lebanon needs to form a new government to enact urgent economic reforms that can convince donors to disburse some $11 billion in aid pledged at a conference last year.

Reporting by Laila Bassam, Tom Perry, and Eric Knecht; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Catherine Evans

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