Lebanese parliament approves 2024 budget

Two days of debate marked by heated arguments between MPs

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri leads a session in Beirut. Reuters
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Lebanese MPs approved the country's 2024 draft budget following two days of discussions that were marked by heated arguments and the conflict in southern Lebanon, as much as they were about economic policy.

Since the financial collapse in 2019, the currency has plummeted in value by about 98 per cent. Salaries have failed to catch up with rampant inflation and basic essentials such as medicine and electricity remain in severe shortage.

One of the proposals was a tax system that was viewed as potentially placing an unjust and disproportionate burden on the less well-off in a country struggling with one of the worst economic crises in modern times.

There are also concerns the budget lacks the financial reforms required for a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Among those reforms demanded by the IMF are a unification of Lebanon's numerous exchange rates.

Ghassan Hasbani, an MP and former deputy prime minister, said the budget was “far from any reform” and “does not contain any public-sector reform to improve state revenue”.

Many Lebanese blame the economic crisis on decades of mismanagement and corruption among the country's elite. It led to the introduction of informal capital controls, under which depositors were deprived of much of the value of their life savings.

The budget was agreed on last year by the Council of Ministers and then faced a number of amendments by the parliament's Finance and Budget Committee.

The parliament had been expected to vote on the draft budget on Thursday but due to the length and number of speeches, it was delayed until Friday.

Addressing the parliament before the vote, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the budget was one that took into account the circumstances that Lebanon found itself in and that “the discussion around the budget must lead to the start of the country's recovery”.

He said the budget was a continuation of that of 2022, which sought to begin “the process of unifying the exchange rate and increasing public revenues”.

The debate often descended into acrimony.

On Wednesday, Mr Mikati claimed the government had effectively halted Lebanon's economic collapse. In response, MP Paula Yacoubian said his government was “not able to manage” even the smallest of issues.

Before the debate began on Wednesday, the MP Melhem Khalaf, a lawyer and constitutional expert, stormed out of the chamber in objection to the session being held. Mr Khalaf has repeatedly argued that parliament should only be meeting to vote on the country's next president. “I will not violate the constitution,” he said as he left the chamber.

Lebanon has been without a president since October 2022 when Michel Aoun's term expired. The 128 MPs have failed to come close to appointing a successor, in 12 parliamentary sessions. Last year, only two presidential sessions were held amid the entrenched impasse.

Updated: January 31, 2024, 1:57 PM