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French Version


Saudis make good on $700 million loan pledge - Latest cash brings total received to $2.2 billion (Daily Star)

Less than a week after France delivered a $540 million soft loan to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia made a similar gesture on Thursday as part of an effort to help the government reduce debt servicing.

Finance Minister Fouad Siniora and his Saudi counterpart, Ibrahim al-Assaf, signed a $700 million loan agreement at the Grand Serail in the presence of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Saudi Arabia has bought 15-year Treasury bills at 5 percent interest and with a three-year grace period.

The kingdom's loan to Lebanon is the biggest contribution from the donor states that met in Paris last November.With the new loan, Lebanon has received $2.2 billion from Saudi Arabia, France, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Malaysia and Oman.

The remaining $900 million is expected within the coming few weeks, according to Lebanese officials. In addition to the $3.1 billion, Lebanon will receive $1.3 billion from the World Bank and other financial institutions to help in development projects.

Lebanon will use the money to swap short-term and expensive bonds with long-maturity bonds at lower interest rates. Hariri praised the Saudi gesture, stressing that this wasn't the first time the kingdom has stood beside Lebanon.

Assaf said the transaction was done through the Saudi Ahli Bank with the participation of other banks and financial firms in the kingdom.

The Saudi minister expressed confidence that Lebanon will be able to implement its needed fiscal and administrative reforms. Siniora denied reports that the rest of the donor states that pledged loans to Lebanon will back away from their commitment. Hariri said the facts have shown that all these rumors are untrue.

Assaf said Saudi Arabia intends to finance other development projects in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has granted Lebanon billions of dollars in soft loans over the past few years.

Bankers say the new cash injection will also raise the foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank by more than $10.5 billion. They added that the Central Bank's foreign currency reserves are almost equal to its Lebanese pound reserves.

Economists and bankers agree that the money will enable Lebanon to withstand pressure on the pound if war against Iraq erupts soon.

The government projected a budget deficit of 25 percent at the end of 2003.
Hariri hopes the cash injection will give the government time to privatize assets. However, bankers fear any delay in the privatization of cellular licenses may deal a blow to the economic reform program.

Beirut 17-03-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star



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