Cabinet 'Finalizes Budget Articles, Numbers' ahead of Final Session in Baabdaإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The Cabinet on Friday held its last Grand Serail session on the state budget and the final session will be held at the Baabda Palace at a date to be set later, the information minister said.
“We have finished discussing and approving the state budget's articles and numbers,” Jamal al-Jarrah told reporters after the session.
He quoted Prime Minister Saad Hariri as saying that “lowering the deficit from 11.5% to 7.5% is something extraordinary.”
“The financial correction is happening and will continue to take place over the next five years and PM Hariri stressed the need to finalize the budget and send it to Parliament,” Jarrah added.
Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour meanwhile quipped that “an agreement was reached on the budget after approving 'the ten commandments of Prophet Jebran,'” in reference to the proposals of Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil.
Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani of the Lebanese Forces meanwhile announced that the LF had voiced reservations during the session over some articles, including those related to telecommunications and the Port of Beirut.
“We have not reached the sought goal and there will be more work on the state budget. The session in Baabda will not be a formality and there are things that should be achieved in the 2020 budget,” he added.
State Minister for Administrative Development Affairs May Chidiac meanwhile said that “it does not seem that things will end up smoothly.”
“There are topics that have been postponed to the Baabda Palace session,” she added.
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil meanwhile said that he did not hear the LF's ministers voicing reservations during the session, which prompted Hasbani to note that the reservations were recorded in the session's minutes of meeting.
“Today's session indicated that there will be no discussion of additional articles or numbers in the next session,” Khalil told reporters.
“There are no pending articles or numbers and there won't be additional discussions wherever the session might be held,” he added.
Chidiac had said before the session: “If there is an inclination for a budget vote, the LF will vote in favor despite some reservations.”
For his part, Education Minister Akram Shehayyeb said: “The budget must be approved by consensus. Bassil was positive,” he said, referring to Bassil’s suggestions to slash the budget deficit.
“Lowering the budget deficit to 7.5 percent is an accomplishment, and I hope we finalize the talks today,” he added.
The Cabinet has held 18 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 had prompted 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.