The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri chaired today at the Grand Serail a meeting of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) that was attended by the Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil, the World Bank Regional Director Saroj Kumar Jha, the President of the Council for Development and Reconstruction Nabil Jisr, Hariri's Advisor Nadim Munla and representatives of Arab, European and international financial institutions. Discussions focused on the necessary steps to accelerate the implementation of the CEDRE conference decisions.
After the meeting, Jha said: "Today we had an excellent meeting of the international financing institutions that had made very strong pledges of financial support at the CEDRE conference in Paris last year. This was the preparatory meeting of all the international financing institutions and we discussed at this meeting the priority projects that are included in Lebanon's Capital investment plan (CIP). All the international financing institutions reconfirmed their support to Lebanon for the implementation of the Capital investment plan. We also discussed the sectors' priorities and the projects that the international financing institutions will be supporting. This is very positive news for the country. I can say on behalf of the World Bank Group that the pledges of financial support that we made in Paris last year are valid and we look forward to working with the government of Lebanon to help implement the priority projects in various sectors in the economy."
For his part Munla said: "Today's meeting was a consultative one with Arab and international financial institutions that provided assistance to Lebanon at the CEDRE conference. This meeting mainly aimed at harmonizing projects and financing, to make sure that some sectors do not receive substantial funding while others remain without funding. The other objective of the meeting was to agree with them on speeding up the process of approving and implementing the projects. At the end of the meeting, we agreed on several steps in order to expedite the period between identifying a project and starting to spend on it so it is between 12 to 15 months. The meeting was very successful and the institutions reiterated their commitment to the aid they announced in CEDRE. They also expressed their readiness to provide additional aid if Lebanon carries out the reforms mentioned in the ministerial statement."
Question: These reforms include the approval of the budget. Will this year's budget be approved soon?
Munla: We discussed this and the Prime Minister said that it is one of the points that we are working on. The 2019 budget is very important and the minister of finance was present today and expressed the keenness of the Lebanese state to complete it as soon as possible. At the same time there are serious measures that will be taken to reduce the budget deficit this year.
Question: Was there a warning about the issue of corruption that was raised recently and did you address it today?
Munla: The reforms include the fight against corruption. It is one of the main points in the Lebanese government's program. Second, there is a new law for tenders. In addition, these institutions adopt international standards. This means that the loan that comes from the World Bank is subject to the control of the World Bank. Also, the loan from the European Bank of Investment is subject to European standards, and this reassures them. It is not the first time these institutions deal with Lebanon. They have a clear idea of the Lebanese reality, the ministries and the Council for Development and Reconstruction.
Question: You spoke about mechanisms of approving projects and loans in the Council of Ministers and Parliament in a period not exceeding one year. This is not a short period.
Munla: Lebanon's previous experience has not been encouraging in terms of speed in approving projects and starting to implement them. I know that President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri agreed to speed up matters related to CEDRE projects and we will see a new pattern in the process of approving and implementing projects in the legislative and executive branches authorities.
Question: Are there any conditions for the loans?
Munla: There are no conditions. The Lebanese state does not accept this. To confirm this, the Lebanese state and the government adopted a number of reforms after the CEDRE conference that they committed to and the international community will follow up this issue and the extent of Lebanon's commitment to it.
Question: Is today's meeting the first practical step to start implementing the decisions of the CEDRE Conference?
Munla: It is the first consultative meeting with all the financial institutions. As for starting the implementation of the decisions, it had started and did not stop. Since April, several bilateral meetings have been held with the World Bank, the European Bank and all the institutions. There are also projects that have been agreed upon and will be discussed in the Cabinet and Parliament.
Question: Are there any specific priorities for these projects?
Munla: This matter depends on the Council of Ministers. During the last meeting that took place before CEDRE Conference, it was agreed that the Prime Minister would come back to the Council of Ministers after the conference. This will happen, but there is no problem because the funding received by Lebanon is about 12 billion dollars and if we add to it the contribution of the private sector, it will surpass the needs of the first and second phases of funding, which is 17 billion dollars.
Question: In the previous conferences, Lebanon did not receive the amount that was announced. How much will Lebanon get out of the 11 billion allocated to it in CEDRE?
Munla: The CEDRE Conference is different from Paris I, II and III conferences because it is aimed at financing projects. This means that the financial institution that will grant funding will study the project and this is not easy. The Lebanese institutions have to study their projects in detail and submit them to these institutions and then discuss the financing process with them.
Question: Everyone says that the electricity sector is a priority for Lebanon. Are we going to resort to plants to solve it or go back to ships? Is there an integrated plan for this sector?
Munla: The Minister of Energy Nada Bustani has been following this issue since the first day of her appointment. You accompanied her meetings in the media with the world's largest producers, like Siemens, General Electric and others. There are also meetings this week and we will participate in some of them. It is clear that what is needed is a final solution for the electricity problem and not a temporary solution. I am sure that Minister Bustani will present a project for a permanent solution to the electricity crisis.
Question: Some say that CEDRE obliged the displaced Syrians to work in the projects they funded. Is this true? If it is true, then this means they will not return to their country?
Munla: The Lebanese law allows Syrian workers to work in three sectors, infrastructure, environment and agriculture. I think that there will be normal Syrian labor force in infrastructure. In Lebanon during the 1990s, there were more than half a million Syrians working in infrastructure and this is not new in Lebanon.
Source: National News Agency