Lebanon finance minister, World Bank urge formation of government

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The World Bank and Lebanon’s caretaker finance minister jointly called on Friday for the formation of a new government after half a year of political stalemate, saying a new administration was needed to halt “confusion” over the economy.

Almost seven months since the parliamentary election, Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has hit a wall in his efforts to form a national unity government as political factions jostle for positions in a new cabinet.

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Ferid Belhaj said in a statement a new government was needed soon, “to put an end to the confusion over the financial and economic situation and to produce a climate of confidence regarding the future of projects scheduled for Lebanon”.

Politicians have repeatedly warned there is a risk of economic crisis if a government is not formed soon.

The World Bank has committed $2.2 billion for projects in Lebanon including transport and job creation. But around $800 million is unused while awaiting government approval and Lebanon must pay commitment fees on it.

Members of the outgoing cabinet have remained in office in a caretaker capacity but are unable to take major decisions until a new cabinet is named.

More than $11 billion of international donor funding pledged in April is also contingent on a new government making a tangible commitment to economic reform.

Belhaj and another World Bank official two weeks ago said Lebanon was losing momentum and there was a risk donors might start losing interest.

Lebanon has the world’s third highest debt-to-GDP ratio and a new government must be in place before Lebanon embarks on major fiscal reforms. The International Monetary Fund said in June these reforms are urgently needed to put the debt on a sustainable footing.

The World Bank estimates Lebanon’s national debt will stand at 155 percent of gross domestic product by the end of 2018 and that a rise in current spending will increase the fiscal deficit to 8.3 percent of GDP in 2018, from 6.6 percent in 2017.

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