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French Version

Salameh seeks another $500 million in soft loans to revitalize Lebanon

Lebanon hopes to obtain $500 million or more in soft loans from international sources to revitalize its private sector, Central Bank Governor Riad Salamah said on Thursday.

"We hope to secure long-term financing of the private sector through international institutions such as the European Investment Bank and OPEC and the amount should be in the excess of $500 million," Salameh told reporters during a news conference to announce a November 7 "Rebuilding Lebanon" event, organized by the Union of Arab Banks (UAB) and UN-ESCWA.

Salameh, who was named the best Central Bank governor in the world during the August World Bank and IMF conference in Singapore, said that a $500 million soft loan would generate $2 billion worth of economic activity in Lebanon.

The private sector was badly damaged by the Israeli war and blockade, with some estimating total indirect losses in excess of $5 billion.

Apart from the indirect losses, the Council for Development and Reconstruction said the total cost of destroyed and damaged properties and infrastructure was $3.6 billion.

Lebanon had recorded GDP growth of 5 percent through June of this year, but the war cut projections to 0 percent on the whole for 2006.

An international donor conference is expected to take place in Paris on January 15 to raise grants and soft loans for Lebanon to rebuild its destroyed infrastructure and reduce its budget deficit.

Officials and economists say that Lebanon could obtain as much as $3.5 billion in grants and $5 billion in soft loans during the conference.

Salameh denied that there are any political conditions for Paris donor conference.

"Lebanon will present an economic reform program during the conference to secure soft loans," he said.

The plan is expected to reiterate the government's determination to implement its privatization programs.

Salameh added that Lebanon must come up with a reform proposal that enjoys political consensus.

"If we start with a successful conference then the expectations of a good economic performance will be better," he said.

Responding to a question, Salameh insisted the Central Bank's projection of zero GDP growth at the end of the year is fairly accurate.

But some international investment banks and rating agencies claimed that Lebanon's GDP will fall to minus 6-7 percent in 2006, a figure disputed by the Central Bank.

Salameh stressed that a political consensus should be first secured for any economic reform paper.

He added that the Central Bank is bearing 23 percent of the total public debt, or $10 billion.

Joseph Torbey, the president of the UAB, said that the Rebuilding Lebanon conference will be attended by ministers and Central Bank governors from Europe and the Arab countries.

"The purpose of the conference is to draw a strategy for reconstruction and building the future," Torbey said. He added that the conference will discuss the role of commercial banks in the reconstruction drive.

Beirut 20-10-2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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