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French Version

Will Beirut honor ‘Paris II’ commitments ? (Daily Star)

The Lebanese government has yet to implement commitments made at last year’s “Paris II” donor conference, but it is still premature to speak about a Paris III or withdrawal of undistributed World Bank funds, a senior World Bank official said Tuesday.

“This is a program that cannot be implemented in one shot. Some parts have been implemented and some parts have yet to be implemented,” said Christiaan Poortman, the World Bank’s vice-president of the Middle East and North Africa region, at a press conference held at UN house in Beirut.

Poortman was referring to the reforms that the government pledged to implement at last year’s donor meeting in Paris in return for $4.4 billion in soft loans for development and debt re-structuring. “My understanding is that the government is clearly committed to implementing these reforms,” Poortman said.

He concluded on Tuesday a four-day visit to Lebanon, his first after being appointed to his post three months ago. The World Bank contributed $200 million out of $1.3 billion pledged at Paris II for financing development projects.

The World Bank official said the reforms the Lebanese government promised to make at Paris II formed a good basis, dismissing talk about the World Bank contributing to a Paris III meet as “premature.” “My view is that there is an understanding that was reached in Paris II and it was a useful basis to go on,” he said.

Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the architect of the Paris I and II conferences, has said a Paris III meeting could be a possibility after making a recent visit to the French capital.

The Lebanese government has procrastinated in implementing privatization and securitization operations pledged at the Paris meeting due to political bickering among its leaders.

The Finance Ministry has already proposed a 2004 budget draft bill that excludes returns from the sale of state assets to the private sector and securitization. Little progress is expected next year in reforms due to preoccupation with the presidential election as Emile Lahoud’s six-year mandate winds down. “It is important for us to see where these (Paris II) commitments stand,” said Poortman. “ … significant progress has been made to stabilize the situation.”

Besides the commitments made at Paris II, the World Bank has extended to Lebanon since 1994 loans amounting to a total of $530 million, with only $165 million being disbursed. In the past the bank trimmed financing for one project due to government procrastination in implementing the loan agreement.

Poortman said the World Bank is currently not considering suspending financing on any of its projects in Lebanon. “There are 13 ongoing (World Bank) projects and each one is being looked at carefully,” said Poortman.

He said that in certain cases the bank would withdraw funds if conditions change, but any withdrawal is subject to prior negotiations with the country concerned.

Beirut 27-10-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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