Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

UN Secretary General raises his voice in Lebanon

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Monday, December 20th 2021 à 15:45 | Read 176 times

Guterres and Michel Aoun had a frank discussion on the future of Lebanon (Photo: Onu/Eskinder Debebe)
Guterres and Michel Aoun had a frank discussion on the future of Lebanon (Photo: Onu/Eskinder Debebe)
LEBANON. "I urge the Lebanese leadership to deserve their people and I urge the international community to respond to the generosity of the Lebanese people." After his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Guterres did not mince his words, urbi et orbi, at the start of his three-day visit to Beirut. Arriving on Sunday 19 December 2021, the UN Secretary General is expected to meet with political, religious and civil society leaders.

He acknowledged that "the international community has not done enough to support Lebanon, Jordan and other countries in the world that have opened their borders, their doors and their hearts to refugees, while some (states) that are much richer and more powerful unfortunately close their own borders." A subject close to his heart as he recalled, "I have been High Commissioner for Refugees for ten years and I have seen few countries or people being as generous to Syrian refugees."

Guterres also appealed for everyone to help Lebanon overcome its current difficulties, regretting that the emergency response plan has so far only recovered 11% of the required amount.

An economic recovery plan is being drawn up

But the efforts will also have to come from within, says the UN Secretary General. According to him, "the Lebanese people expect their political leaders to restore the economy and establish effective government and political institutions, end corruption and guarantee human rights. The country is mired in a deep economic and social crisis. One of the worst in the world since 1850, as the World Bank has called it. In default since March 7, 2020, it has the third largest debt in the world and the price of its currency, the Lebanese pound, continues to plummet.

The Lebanese president tried to persuade his interlocutor of his goodwill. "We are trying to overcome (the crises) by developing an economic recovery plan, which will be presented and negotiated with the International Monetary Fund." Michel Aoun also insisted on the "multiple reforms needed in the economic, financial and administrative sectors." He wants to "reconsider many public administrations, put an end to financial waste, fight against corruption and carry out the forensic audit of the Banque du Liban in order to identify those responsible for the financial losses in the past years."

The financial debts (state, banks and Banque du Liban) were estimated a few days ago by the government at $68bn (€60.2bn). "There has been considerable progress in identifying the losses of the financial sector," said Jerry Rice, IMF spokesman, on Thursday 16 December 2021. While specifying that this figure was likely to evolve upwards after the expected results of international audit firms that are looking into this subject.


​The IMF in Beirut in early 2022

Despite the urgency, Lebanese leaders are still unable to agree on the reforms needed to obtain the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) without which Lebanon cannot hope to recover. "Faced with the suffering of the Lebanese people, political leaders have no right to paralyse the country with their division," Guterres criticised. The new Lebanese government has only been in place since September 2021, although Prime Minister Najib Mikati was appointed at the end of July 2021 to form a team. It has not met since mid-October 2021, precisely because of the disagreements over the investigation of the Beirut port explosion and the responsibilities. The accident in August 2020 caused 215 deaths and 6,500 injuries and revealed flaws in the country's governance.
A delegation from the Bretton Woods institution is due to visit Beirut in early 2022.

Stressing that "the Lebanese people must be fully engaged in choosing the country's future", the UN Secretary General also has high expectations for the upcoming legislative elections to be held in spring 2022. No precise date has yet been determined, however. Michel Aoun's supporters want them to take place in May 2022 while the president of the parliament, Nabih Berry (leader of the Shiite movement Amal) would like the 27 March 2022.

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