Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun heads a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. 24 January, 2022. (Photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
The Lebanese government met for the first time in three months at the Presidential Palace in Baabda on 24 January to discuss the country’s 2022 budget, coinciding with the end of a boycott of cabinet sessions by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
The two parties decided to boycott the cabinet sessions until those behind the 14 October Tayouneh massacre were brought to justice, and until the lead judge in the 2020 Beirut Port blast, Tarek Bitar, was removed from the investigation under allegations he has politicized the probe.
But despite their demands, on 15 January Hezbollah and Amal announced they would end their boycott, saying the decision was driven by a desire to approve the 2022 budget and to discuss an economic recovery for the crisis-hit nation.
Over recent months Lebanon has failed to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a result of this government lockdown, contributing to the rapidly deteriorating financial crisis in the country.
However, it’s worth highlighting that negotiations with the IMF have stalled since 2020, amid a dispute between the government, commercial banks and the Lebanese Central Bank over the size of losses in the financial system and how to distribute them.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati said during the meeting that “the government will cooperate in a spirit of responsibility, will avoid any arguments, and will take into consideration that the people will no longer tolerate opposition.”
He went on to add that the Lebanese people “are tired of the disputes, and they want productive work and cooperation among everyone to remove themselves from the dangerous crisis they are in.”
Meanwhile, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, MP Muhammad Raad, said on 23 January that “the budget does not involve any balance, does not give the people their rights, and burdens them further, after all the negligence and governmental misbehavior, and after having had their assets looted or confiscated at the hands of the country’s own officials and banks.”
The lira, Lebanon’s national currency, has lost more than 90% of its value since the country fell deeply into the financial crisis in 2019, despite the fact the official exchange rate is still 1,500 liras to the dollar.
In reality the US dollar is currently trading at 23,000 Lebanese Lira.
According to a statement by an IMF spokeswoman on 21 January, the organization intends to “continue to engage closely with officials in the coming weeks to help formulate a comprehensive reform strategy.”