Lebanese parliament postpones budget talks, slowing IMF reform checklist

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati speaks during a parliamentary session to discuss and approve the budget in Beirut, Lebanon September 16, 2022. Lebanese Parliament/Handout via REUTERS

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September 16 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament suspended talks on the 2022 budget on Friday after a walkout by lawmakers sent turnout below a quorum, further delaying efforts to meet conditions to access IMF funds for relieve its economic crisis.

A group of lawmakers, including newly elected lawmakers who ran on a reform platform, a bloc of Christian MPs and others, left the “chaotic” talks.

“It’s unconstitutional and chaotic. (Other legislators) were saying let’s change this, let’s change that, add here, add there, without studying anything. Is that how we’re going to do that?” Halima Kaakour, a first lawmaker, told Reuters.

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President Nabih Berri has scheduled the next session for September 26, after Prime Minister Najib Mikati returns from trips to London for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Lebanon has been trapped in an economic collapse since 2019 that has impoverished more than 80% of the population and emptied state coffers.

An April staff-level agreement between the Lebanese government and the International Monetary Fund called on authorities to boost revenue to finance the crippled public sector and more social spending by calculating customs taxes at a “unified exchange rate”. .

Lebanese authorities still calculate customs tariffs – a key source of state revenue – at the old peg of 1,505 Lebanese liras to the dollar.

MPs had debated recalculating it to between 12,000 and 14,000 Lebanese liras to the dollar even though the market rate was 38,000 on Friday.

Lebanon’s economy minister told Reuters he was “very concerned” that the budget would not satisfy the IMF, which did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters on Friday.

Lebanon has barely made progress on the IMF’s 10 preconditions due to resistance from political factions, commercial banks and powerful private pressure groups.

“There has been slow progress in implementing some of the critical actions that we believe are needed to move a program forward,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told a conference in January. Thursday, saying a staff mission would visit Lebanon next week to discuss ways to “accelerate” needed reforms.

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Reporting by Timour Azhari, writing by Timour Azhari and Maya Gebeily; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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