BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament passed the 2020 budget on Monday although its budget and finance committee chief said the forecast revenues might be unrealistic as the country wrestles with a major economic and financial crisis.
As lawmakers convened to debate the state budget, protesters hurled rocks at police who were deployed in force around parliament.
The budget envisages a deficit of around 7% of GDP, the head of parliament’s budget and finance committee, Ibrahim Kanaan, told Reuters, wider than the originally hoped-for 0.6% with the economy shrinking and choked by a liquidity crunch.
The 2020 budget was first drafted by Saad al-Hariri’s government before it resigned in October in the face of protests against the political elite that collectively steered Lebanon into the multi-faceted crisis.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet took office last week with backing from the Shia Hezbollah movement and its allies, told parliament he would not obstruct the budget.
During Monday’s parliamentary session, Kanaan said projected revenues might not be realistic because of a contraction in the economy.
Some parties boycotted the session, with critics arguing the new government should have won parliament’s vote of confidence first and then presented the budget itself.
Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and waste that have landed the country with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
Foreign donors have said any support to Lebanon will depend on it enacting long-delayed reforms.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that Lebanon’s new cabinet must make changes. “The government must put into place indispensable measures,” he said. “It’s almost a question of its survival.”
Reporting by Tom Perry, Ellen Francis, Laila Bassam, Yara Abi Nader and Eric Knecht; Editing by Mark Heinrich
Image: An anti-government protester holds a knife as throws stones at riot police during a scuffle near the parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Lebanese security forces scuffled Monday with protesters near the parliament building in downtown Beirut where lawmakers were scheduled to begin a two-day discussion and later approval of the budget amid a crippling financial crisis (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)