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Duquesne: The 2019 budget must be adopted before the end of March


The French diplomat entrusted by president Emmanuel Macron with following up on the CEDRE process says the Lebanese government does not have “the luxury of time”.

At the end of his first visit to Lebanon since the formation of the new government, ambassador Pierre Duquesne said he was confident the CEDRE process would go on, but called for "positive signals" from the new executive regarding the reforms promised at the conference that was held in Paris last April. The Lebanese government had committed during the conference to restoring public finances, reforming key sectors of the economy, such as electricity, and fighting corruption. In return, the international community promised to mobilize more than 11 billion USD for infrastructure projects. "None of the donors said they would cancel the money promised for Lebanon. (...) The contract for CEDRE Projects, finances and reforms remains valid, and one finds the confirmation of it in the ministerial declaration (of the new cabinet). There is also the fact that the government does not have the luxury of time. We must advance on several plans”, said Mr. Duquesne on Friday during a press conference at the Pine Residence, the residence of the French Ambassador to Lebanon. "Anything that can be done by the government over the coming weeks and months to confirm this will to move forward will be useful, and even necessary," said the diplomat.

As proof that there has been no real progress since his last visit in October, Pierre Duquesne reiterated the same requests for progress he made then, and that he considers "simple" and "doable" in the short term. "Appointing sector regulators in telecommunications, energy and civil aviation has been on the table for a few months now. It must be done, because without these nominations, these authorities do not work, these sectors are not regulated and there will be no investment in these sectors”, he insisted. The same goes for strengthening the High Council for Privatization and Partnerships (HCPP, the body attached to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, responsible for implementing public-private partnerships), according to Duquesne. "We must give the HCPP the means of its operation that allows it to apply the good, efficient law of September 2017 on PPPs work," he added.

"Not letting public accounts slip"

“There are more complex and difficult things that need to be done to reduce the public deficit. The 2019 budget must be adopted quickly, ideally before the end of March, so that the 2020 budget will be adopted before the end of 2019. The country cannot operate without a budget”, Mr Duquesne advised. Reminding his audience of Lebanon's commitment to reduce the public deficit-to-GDP ratio by one percentage point for five consecutive years, made during CEDRE, he said that this should not be done "in a way that would break the economy, but in a manner that would still show a desire not to let the public accounts slip”. Although he says he doesn’t doubt the government’s will, “unlike other donors", the diplomat admits that the decision taken by the Council of Ministers on Thursday to increase the salaries of secondary teachers was "not really a positive sign of this desire". In order to reduce the public deficit, he called for reforms within the civil service, especially the electricity sector, “which is at the same time macroeconomic, sectoral and technical, and without which the investments in infrastructure could not be made”. Such reforms should start, according to Duquesne, by raising electricity tariffs: "There are mid-term, as well as short-term solutions, that will ensure electricity is paid for at its true cost, while sparing the poorest, as specified in the ministerial statement."

As for fighting corruption, Pierre Duquesne welcomed the announcement made by the government regarding the forthcoming adoption of a national anti-corruption strategy. "It's a good thing and a transition towards e-administration is certainly a way to reduce petty corruption," he stated.

During the press conference, the diplomat also recalled the three monitoring mechanisms for the CEDRE process. The first is a public website dedicated to highlighting the progress of reforms, projects and their financing. The two others will be "two coordinating groups: one local group, based in Beirut and very operational, and the other that will bring together representatives of major donors and international organizations with a more strategic vision," Duquesne explained.

(This article was originally published in French the 1rst of March)

Lire aussi (in French)

CEDRE : le gouvernement attendu au tournant pour le budget 2019

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