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French Version

Siniora calls on Arab states to support Lebanese economy ahead of 2006 donor meet

Premier speaks of 'wide economic, financial and administrative reforms'

Premier Fouad Siniora Thursday called on Arab states to increase their support for Lebanon's economy ahead of an international donors conference in Beirut expected at the beginning of 2006.

Siniora has been seeking to buy oil from Gulf states at discount rates to ease Lebanon's energy crisis. Lebanon signed a $800 million deal to buy oil directly from Kuwait over the summer and has recently inked a smaller deal with Algeria which the government said will reduce costs by $40 million per year.

Speaking at the annual Arab Banking Conference, Siniora said Lebanon has started "a series of wide economic, financial and administrative reforms to be in line with modern economies."

He added that his government has been working on "modernizing laws and removing obstacles" in order to make Lebanon more competitive and attractive for Lebanese and foreign investors.

Siniora was speaking in front of 700 Arab and international delegates attending the two-day conference to discuss the challenges of money laundering and terrorism as well as risks facing the Arab banking sector today.

"We will discuss in depth not only the technical and operational risks, but also the geopolitical dangers generated by economic turbulence," said Joseph Torbey, chairman of the Union of Arab Banks, which organized the "Banking in a Risky World" conference.

Torbey urged the Arab banking sector to improve its ability to manage crises and fight money laundering and corruption.

He stressed the importance of directing bank financing toward sustainable development and said that reducing poverty is a "wise economic policy in the mid and long terms."

Also at the conference, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said that "modernizing banking laws" had made it possible for the Central Bank to realize a major goal in the country's overcrowded banking sector, which he said was "getting 30 banks out of the market without having any depositor lose his money."

Salameh said that the policy of the Central Bank is based on stabilizing prices, improving laws governing capital markets, fighting money laundering, promoting transparency regarding the Central Bank's policy, and encouraging electronic banking.

He said that the effort deployed by the Central Bank has made Lebanon's banking sector reach $60 billion in bank assets, which represents three times the country's GDP. Other topics tackled at the conference include: "new techniques in risk mitigation," "public policies for enabling Arab Banks to better manage risks," "contemporary banking trends in risk-management strategies," and "the development and importance of Islamic banking."

The attendees will come up with recommendations on Friday to strengthen the capacity of the Arab banks and financial institutions.

Beirut 28-11-2005
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star

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