Bloomberg / Beirut
Lebanon’s government on Friday finalised its 2019 draft budget but stopped short of officially passing it, a crucial step that could unlock billions of dollars in aid and revive the economy.
The repeatedly delayed proposals will be approved in a future cabinet session, Communications Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said after a meeting of ministers. As things stand, the budget targets lowering the deficit to 7.5% of gross domestic product, from the current 11.5%, through a combination of spending cuts and increases in some taxes.
Lebanon’s fractious politics have delayed reforms to ease one of the world’s highest debt burdens. Some top officials, led by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, have urged the government to be bolder this year in a bid to attract investors and secure $11bn in funding pledged by international donors who are waiting for evidence that Lebanon is committed to reducing the deficit and combating corruption.
But plans that include a strong dose of austerity are likely to stir public anger in Lebanon, where hosting refugees from the war in neighbouring Syria has further strained finances. Public-sector employees, including central bank staff, as well as retirees have held a series of protests and nationwide strikes over recent weeks to demonstrate against possible cuts to their income.
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