Bassil: Budget Steps Insufficient, Some Decisions Need Courageإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Free Patriotic Movement chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Thursday described the austerity measures included in the 2019 draft state budget as “insufficient,” urging “courage” in taking some painful decisions.
“What has been so far accomplished in Cabinet is insufficient,” Bassil said at a press conference he held after an emergency meeting for the FPM-led Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc.
“We are before a chance that will not be repeated,” he warned, urging further reforms.
Cautioning that some inside and outside the country “want to leave the country and the presidential tenure under the mercy of the crisis,” Bassil said his dispute is not with a single person but rather with several parties.
“Do not intimidate us by saying that some don't want a state budget. We all want a speedy state budget,” Bassil added.
And lamenting that “we lack a political decision to shoulder the cost of an austerity budget,” the FPM chief pointed out that “every reform has a cost and someone has to bear it.”
He reassured: “The state budget will be finalized and the deficit has been lowered but we're seeking a bigger reduction and there is no need for scaring people.”
“We want a drastic solution, not painkillers, and we have offered the necessary sacrifices in our ministries,” Bassil said.
He added: “We reject the persistence of this situation and we have an economic plan to resolve the crisis. We are not imposing it on anyone, but we have a responsibility towards the Lebanese.”
“I've been hearing calls for postponing things for the past ten years in Cabinet, so when will the decision to rescue the country be taken?” Bassil asked.
“We have reached a lot of reforms in the state budget and this is something good for everyone who has participated in it, from the finance minister to the rest of those concerned, but we consider it insufficient,” he went on to say.
As for Friday's cabinet session on the state budget, Bassil said: “We will continue our positive work and we're not pressing regarding anything, but there are decisions that need courage in order to be taken.”
“Is it acceptable that the Lebanese are paying compensations for the family of an MP who won his seat in 1947?” the FPM chief wondered, referring to proposals to slash the salaries of incumbent and former ministers and MPs.
He added: “We want the state budget to restore people's confidence in the state, encourage investment, reassure the international community, restore confidence in the markets and activate the economic cycle.”
“Only 5,000 Syrians in Lebanon have work permits, is this acceptable?” Bassil decried.
As for his tense ties with Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, the foreign minister said: “We don't want a problem with anyone, but rather solutions for the sake of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
The Cabinet has held around 17 sessions to finalize the budget and several parties have accused Bassil of hindering the discussions with side proposals.
Proposals he made in Wednesday's session prompted Prime Minister Saad Hariri to give ministers 48 hours to study them.
Lebanon has vowed to slash public spending to unlock $11 billion worth of aid pledged by international donors during an April 2018 conference in Paris.
Last month, Hariri vowed to introduce "the most austere budget in Lebanon's history" to combat the country's bulging fiscal deficit, sparking fears among public sector employees that their salaries may be cut.
Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 percent of GDP in 2018, according to credit ratings agency Moody's.