Lebanon premier asks World Bank, IMF help with economic rescue plan


Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Thursday asked international funding bodies for support in drawing up an emergency rescue plan for his protest-wracked country.

Donors including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday rebuffed a plea for financial aid pending the rapid formation of a new government to implement key economic reforms.

Caretaker premier Saad Hariri on Thursday made phone calls to World Bank president David Malpass and IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, his office said.

“Hariri stressed his commitment to preparing an urgent rescue plan to resolve the crisis, while waiting for the formation of a new cabinet able to implement it,” it said in a statement.

“He discussed with both the technical support the Work Bank and IMF could provide in drawing up this plan,” it added.

Lebanon has been rocked by unprecedented popular protests since October 17 over official mismanagement and corruption demonstrators blame for a deteriorating economy.

In a country where the local currency is pegged to the US dollar and used in everyday transactions, banks have gradually restricted greenback withdrawals, causing a dollar liquidity crisis that has made imports increasingly difficult and expensive.

Hariri also spoke to the president of the World Bank about “the possibility of the bank… increasing its contribution to funding international trade to Lebanon” to help importers bring in essential goods.

Lebanon has been without a cabinet since Hariri stepped down on October 29, with a bitterly divided political class unable to agree on a new premier ever since.

Protesters have demanded a new government composed entirely of independent experts, but analysts say this may be a tall order.

– ‘Acute political uncertainty’ –

Parliamentary consultations are expected to start towards naming a new prime minister on Monday, after the Sunni Muslim religious establishment rejected an alternative candidate for premier and threw its support behind Hariri.

Hariri has said he would only return as premier if it was to head a government of technocrats.

But outgoing foreign minister Gebran Bassil Thursday rejected such a solution that would see Hariri as the only survivor of the last cabinet.

“It’s as if he were the only one not responsible for the (economic) collapse and not accused of corruption,” Bassil said in a televised statement.

He suggested a technocratic prime minister lead a cabinet of experts supported by the various political forces to maintain balance between all sides.

Multi-confessional Lebanon is ruled by a complex political system that seeks to maintain a fragile equilibrium between political parties and religious communities.

Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of endless political deadlock in recent years, compounded by the 2011 breakout of civil war in neighbouring Syria.

A recession of more than 0.2 per cent is expected for this year, the World Bank says.

On Thursday, ratings agency Fitch also bumped Lebanon down to “CC” from “CCC”, after an initial downgrade in August.

“The downgrade of Lebanon’s ratings reflects Fitch’s view that a government debt restructuring or default is probable owing to acute political uncertainty, de facto capital controls and damaged confidence in the banking sector,” it said.

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