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French Version


Bank : MPs must unite to save economy - Consensus should be created ‘quickly and publicly’ (Daily Star)

A leading bank has called on politicians to cast aside their differences in an attempt to salvage the economy. “There is an urgent need to establish a consensus within a fragile coalition. Such a coalition should be strengthened very quickly as well as in a public manner,” Fransabank said in its quarterly report that was released over the weekend.

It said political transparency is key, and the public, particularly foreign investors, need to know there are no more conflicts within the ruling coalition.

The bank was alluding to ongoing differences between President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. It said the government should jump-start privatization and fiscal reforms as soon as possible. “Lebanon has been sluggish in its attempts to carry out fiscal restructuring and privatization,” the bank said. It added that the government also appears to have chosen the worst possible time to generate additional fiscal savings via sell-offs or fiscal reform.

“As far as privatization is concerned, the timing is indeed awkward: Emerging market initial public offerings are virtually dead, while strategic institutional investors are either not attracted to the Middle Eastern market or simply have too many problems of their own ­ e.g. the European telecom sector is currently in the doldrums,” the bank said.

Privatization is being made an impossible task by factors such as divisive domestic politics, unclear and often poor finances in the assets to be privatized, resistance from labor unions, and disputes between the government and those who wish to bid, the bank said. “It is therefore vital for the government to carry out successfully a couple of privatization deals, as it would jump-start the privatization program in a serious manner, show a clear political will, and bring much-needed cash into the coffers.”

The bank said partial privatization of the telecom and electricity sectors could bring in $2 billion to $3 billion.

Fransabank warned that social instability could “destroy in an instant all the efforts achieved in other areas, such as the strengthening of political stability, the increase in government revenues, and the slow and onerous restructuring of the debt.” It urged the government to speed efforts to create jobs and slow down the brain drain.
Economists estimate that more than 500,000 Lebanese have emigrated over the past 10 years.

Beirut 20-10-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star



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