Lebanon MPs argue over World Bank loans for the poor
BEIRUT: The Lebanese government’s hopes for an emergency loan of $ 246 million to aid the country’s poor were thrown into chaos as parliamentarians argued over the details of the aid package.
The World Bank cash assistance aims to build a stronger social safety net for 800,000 of Lebanon’s most vulnerable citizens amid an economic and health crisis that leaves up to half of the country’s population facing increasing deprivation.
The spiraling collapse has led to triple-digit inflation and fears that up to 20 percent of Lebanese people could be plunged into extreme poverty.
With little hope of an end to the political stalemate and economists predicting the central bank will cut subsidies on essentials in the coming weeks, the transitional government has been desperate to gain access to the $ 246 million World Bank loan to avert growing social chaos in the country.
The deteriorating economic situation became apparent on Wednesday when the dollar hit Lebanese pounds 9,000 on the black market.
However, hopes that the World Bank’s emergency money could be used quickly were dashed on Tuesday when a bill to sign the loan agreement became the subject of heated parliamentary debate.
While some MPs said the credit details were “ambiguous and the distribution mechanism unclear,” others called for the package to be linked to a stop to smuggling across the border with Syria.
Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said the government was trying to approve projects without scrutiny due to the economic crisis and the urgent needs of the people.
“This also applies to the sovereignty of Lebanon,” he said.
MPs also disagreed on whether the loan should be donated to families in need at an exchange rate of 6,240 Lebanese pounds to the dollar or in US dollars.
Other MPs expressed fears that the loan could be misused for political purposes.
The World Bank estimates that 1.7 million Lebanese will fall into poverty and up to 841,000 people will suffer from food shortages.
Michel Abboud, President of Caritas Lebanon, said the charity is having tens of thousands of families in trouble.
“We have been in the social field for 50 years and we see more and more poor people being added to the lists due to the loss of family income due to the exceptional situation in the country,” he said.
After talks between the Lebanese government and the World Bank about the loan, an expert told Arab News: “The loan was initially valued at $ 600 million, but during negotiations between 2011 and 2020, the amount dropped to $ 246 million . The World Bank had comments on monitoring due to mismanagement and noted that Lebanon did not have clear polls showing the poverty rate. “
Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development, said: “The World Bank refused to spend money on the Lebanese authorities because of a lack of trust and reform.”
However, he said that amid the “harsh reality of Lebanon” the bank offered the loan to help people “survive in suffocating crises.”
Samad added that “Politicians defending sovereignty are an attempt by the parties to further control the administration of program funds.”
International groups should oversee credit distribution, he said.
“This aid will go away in the crisis,” said Samad.