Lebanon’s president wants 2019 budget agreed by end of May

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun urged ministers on Tuesday to speed up discussions on the 2019 draft budget so that parliament can approve it by the end of May.

Wrestling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens and years of low economic growth, the Lebanese government has vowed to carry out overdue reforms.

But it risks facing public anger at potential cuts to the massive public wage bill, including salaries, pensions and benefits – the Lebanese state’s biggest expense. Retired army officers who fear pensions cuts protested on Tuesday as ministers convened at the presidential palace to start debating the draft budget.

The budget will test the government’s will to enact reforms, which economists say are more pressing than ever. State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt servicing costs and hefty subsidies spent on the power sector.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said Lebanon faces catastrophe if the government does not carry out what may be the most austere budget in its history.

A few hundred retired army officers gathered in front of the central bank, the finance ministry, and Beirut port on Tuesday, rallying against any potential cuts to their pensions.

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