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Haddad announces joint committee to oversee disbursement of Paris III funds

Haddad announces joint committee to oversee disbursement of Paris III funds
Critics say political crisis will block receipt of most pledges

Lebanese Economy Minister Sami Haddad said Tuesday that a committee of major donor countries and organizations would be formed by next month to monitor the spending of funds pledged at the Paris III donor conference last month, in an effort to assure uneasy donors that aid will be channeled effectively.

Even if the proposed committee spurs the delivery of $7.6 billion worth of loans and grants, the government must push ahead with income-generating reforms, said Haddad, especially the auction of Lebanon's two mobile licenses.

"I'm asking you to pressure the government to implement reforms. Telecom privatization is the jewel in the crown, and will bring $5 million almost immediately. This will reduce debt from $41 billion to $36 billion in one go," he said during the opening session of a "Transparency in Reconstruction Workshop" at the Phoenicia InterContinental hotel in Beirut.

"We could get $7.6 billion in Lebanon, but right now these are only promises and pledges. Only small portions are grants, which will come over a two- to three-year period," Haddad said.

Most of the civil society groups, members of the private sector, representatives of international financial institutions and donor countries, and government officials who attended the day-long conference, which was organized by the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), were not confident about the state's ability to spend reconstruction funds responsibly or to implement long-overdue economic reforms.

LTA chairman Mohammad Mattar said "strings are attached" to all funds pledged at Paris III, but in the current political climate the government may not be able to meet requirements set by individual donors. Due to the deadlock, some of the earlier pledges from the Stockholm Conference have yet to be received, he said.

"Donors have benchmarks that recipients should comply with but because of the tug-of-war situation ... this is impossible," Mattar told The Daily Star on the sidelines of the conference. "The government's policy is to channel aid through the apparatuses of the state, and donors are intent that the aid be disbursed through government agencies, but [the opposition] also wants a say in how reconstruction assistance is spent. We need to accept that reconstruction in Lebanon is a political issue, as is the method of channeling funds."

The official position of LTA and many other non-governmental organizations is that civil society should have a role in overseeing the distribution of reconstruction assistance, since the sector is "disinterested."

Alexander Bohmer, executive manager of the OECD-MENA Investment Program, also advocated a "multi-stakeholder approach" to "maintain the integrity of public procurement," and called for the government to put a clear-cut mechanism in place to track distribution of reconstruction aid.

The recently created Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) will serve as a model for future sector-specific, accountable, regulatory bodies, said Kemal Shehadi, the authority's recently appointed president, and will work to convince donors that the government is serious about reform.

"The TRA is the first regulatory body created in Lebanon since the Central Bank was established in 1964," Shehadi said.

"Before the TRA ... the Ministry of Telecom was a monopoly service provider. Even the two companies that held mobile licenses operated under its authority," he said.

But despite progress on privatization, some conference attendees said talk of accountability in the reconstruction process was premature.

"Parliament is totally dysfunctional," said legislator Ghassan Mokheiber.

"We cannot talk about effective management practices or anything else until we resolve this constitutional crisis."

Beirut 21-02-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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