Prime Minister Saad Hariri hoped Tuesday that the private sector would be a “pioneer” at the upcoming CEDRE conference, stressing that he supports the reforms required from Lebanon.
Hariri was addressing this morning the participants in the opening of the “Lebanon Investment in Infrastructure Conference” organized by Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal group and the Lebanese economic bodies at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Below is the prime minister's full speech:
"Let me start by thanking 'Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal' group and Raouf Abou Zaki for their efforts to organize the conference today. Mr Abou Zaki is always a pioneer in accompanying the government’s work and priorities.
I also welcome the French interministerial delegate for the Mediterranean Ambassador Pierre Duquesne, who is entrusted by President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate the preparations for the “CEDRE” conference that will be held in Paris in a few weeks.
We meet today to launch the 'Lebanon Investment in Infrastructure Conference' during which we seek to launch important and ambitious partnership projects between the public and private sectors.
Indeed Lebanon starts today a new and promising era, by involving the private sector in the implementation of the infrastructure projects, especially after the approval by Parliament of the law of partnership between the public and private sectors last year.
The participation of the private sector in the infrastructure revival program is a key issue and a basic pillar for the next period.
Thus, this conference represents the beginning of the road and it will be followed by intensive and serious engagement between the state and the private sector on more than one level to enhance the participation of the private sector in the Capital investment program that will be launched soon. I would like to point out that the role that we expect from the private sector is essential for the success of the program.
I believe that the participation of the private sector is as important as the participation of the states in the conference. It is time for the private sector to be in partnership with the public sector. I believe the public sector manages businesses better and is able to carry out these investment projects, whether electricity, roads, airports or other infrastructure projects, better than the state. We as a state should encourage the private sector to carry out these works.
It is no secret that the economic situation is difficult and that we face big challenges. The growth rates are low, unemployment rates exceeded 30 per cent, poverty rates are increasing, balance of payments suffers deficit, public debt is rising at a rapid rate and it exceeded $80 billion and the treasury deficit reached unsustainable levels.
In addition to all this, the Syrian crisis has weighed heavily on the national economy, national exports and the foreign investment inflow, in addition to the repercussions of the massive displacement that burdened the infrastructure, public services, the treasury deficit and the economy in general.
The successive crises that Lebanon faced in the past few years, whether internal or external, drained the national economy, depleted its immunity and weakened the state institutions. The growing treasury deficit has limited the government’s ability to take measures that will stimulate the economy and support the productive sectors.
Hence, a huge and ambitious investment program is needed to relaunch the economic activity and restore the confidence of investors in Lebanon.
The Capital investment program that we developed in coordination and cooperation with all concerned ministries and administrations, and reviewed with all parliamentary blocs exceeds $16 billion and includes more than 250 projects in the sectors of electricity, transportation, water, irrigation, sewage and solid waste, in addition to the industrial zones and cultural development projects.
These projects include all governorates and aim at establishing an infrastructure and public services that keep pace with these times, meet the demands of the private sector and ensure the requirements of decent living for every Lebanese citizen.
This program that takes into account the principle of balanced development is a continuation of Lebanon’s reconstruction project that was launched by Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in the early nineties and allowed the return of Lebanon to life after years of war and destruction.
Today we are reviving the project of Rafik Hariri, the national project that the enemies of Lebanon tried to stop it by assassinating him on February 14, 2005. However, with the support of all those who love Lebanon, particularly the Arab countries with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the forefront, we have maintained the legacy and we will continue the dream from where it stopped, to build a better future for all Lebanese.
As you know, we are working hard in coordination with Lebanon’s friends in the international community to organize conferences to support Lebanon’s stability. The CEDRE conference that France will host on April 6 is the cornerstone of an ambitious construction policy of implementing the Capital investment program over the next ten years.
More than helping Lebanon execute the CIP, the Paris conference aims to support economic stability in Lebanon and lay solid foundations that will allow us to advance our national economy in the coming years, achieve high growth rates and create sustainable employment opportunities for our young men and women.
Hence, the success of CEDRE conference depends mainly on the serious intent of the international community to stand by Lebanon to support its economic stability. It also depends on a genuine will by all political parties to proceed with the financial reform and execute the sectoral and structural reforms that would reinforce the activity of the private sector, attract foreign investments and create sustainable growth rates and employment opportunities.
The CEDRE conference represents an important opportunity for all Lebanese to elaborate a contract for stability, growth and employment opportunities between Lebanon and the international community. And I am fully confident that this contract is in the interest of Lebanon and all the Lebanese.
In conclusion, I reaffirm the key role of the private sector in the coming period. If we look at our situation a year and a half ago and what we achieved today with the political consensus after the election of President Michel Aoun, we find that this consensus is the basis. I know that the challenges are great and the deficit is great. I know that there are political disputes between us, but this political consensus enabled us to complete the 2017 budget, an electoral law that we tried to work on for eight years, the oil and gas law and several other projects that were stopped in parliament. This is why we must benefit from this political consensus, whether now before heading to the Paris conference, or even after the parliamentary elections. These elections will produce a new parliament and will be the basis to complete the plan. Whoever comes in the future, there will be a clear plan for reform, development, stability, security and all that matters to the Lebanese citizen. This is why I am very optimistic although the challenges are great. Some may wonder about the ambition of the Lebanese. It is not the ambition of Saad Hariri, but I see that every Lebanese citizen has an ambition just like Saad Hariri and maybe much more. I know that the private sector is capable of achieving this ambition because you have been looking after the country since the days of Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
This is why the CEDRE conference and the projects that you will see during it will be profitable and this is what matters to the private sector. Contrary to what some politicians believe, that the private sector should not achieve profits and only them should, we say that the private sector should have the means to work in the country. This is why Parliament approved the law of partnership and I hope that the private sector will be a pioneer at the CEDRE conference.
I call on everyone to consider that this project is for our children and grandchildren and cannot be more transparent. The difference between this conference and Paris I, II and III is clear to you today. It is true that there are 250 projects open to investment by the private or public sectors, but the clarity of this project is that we also put the reforms as a basis to translate these projects, so we link the funds that will flow to Lebanon to these reforms. I support these reforms in Lebanon, in order to encourage the private sector and enable the state to stop the waste of public money and corruption and provide Lebanese citizens with the infrastructure that they deserve.
Everyone knows that without infrastructure the country cannot rise. Thus, the focus is on the infrastructure that will create employment opportunities for the Lebanese. And instead of having 30% unemployment, these young men and women will remain in the country and work and this is our goal.”
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