Lebanon needs a $20-$25bn bailout, says former economy minister


Lebanon needs a $20-$25bn bailout including International Monetary Fund (IMF) support to emerge from its financial crisis, former Minister of Economy Nasser Saidi told Reuters news agency on Friday.

Lebanese police stand outside the entrance of the Association of Banks in downtown Beirut, Lebanon November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Lebanon’s crisis has shattered confidence in its banking system and stoked concerns among investors that a default could loom for one of the world’s most indebted countries, which has a $1.2bn eurobond due in March.

Lebanon’s politicians have failed to devise a rescue plan since Prime Minister Saad Hariri quit in October after protests over state corruption.

Meanwhile, bank depositors and investors say that they have been kept in the dark about the country’s dire financial situation.

President Michel Aoun said on Friday that he hoped a new government would be formed next week. But analysts say the cabinet to be led by Hassan Diab may struggle to win international support because he was nominated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and its allies.

Saidi said time was running short, and that $11bn in previously pledged support from foreign donors was now roughly half of what was needed to mount an economic recovery.

“The danger of the current situation is we’re approaching economic collapse that can potentially reduce GDP [gross domestic product for 2020] by 10 percent,” Saidi said in an interview.

Economists have said 2020 is likely to register Lebanon’s first economic contraction in 20 years, with some saying the economy will contract by two percent.

Others have predicted a long depression unseen since independence from France in 1943 or during the 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanese companies have laid off workers and business has ground to a halt. A hard currency crunch has prompted banks to restrict access to dollars and the Lebanese pound trades a third weaker on the parallel market, driving up prices.

“Our policymakers are not willing to recognise the depth of the problems we have … They need the courage to tell the Lebanese population that difficult times are coming,” said Saidi.

Credit-rating agencies have downgraded Lebanon’s sovereign rating and the ratings of its commercial banks on fears of default.

Saidi said a $20-$25bn package could guarantee payment on some of the country’s  public debt, enabling it to restructure in a way that would extend maturities and reduce interest rates.

He said that would need support from the IMF, World Bank, and Western and Gulf states.

Hariri last month discussed the possibility of technical assistance from the IMF and World Bank, but there has been no public mention of a financial package.