Azour urges new government to push ahead with reforms

Lebanese Finance Minister Jihad Azour said on Monday that the current government made progress in the past two years but stressed that reforms should continue. Speaking to Finance Ministry employees, Azour said that any new government must press ahead with reforms. The government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is supposed to step down once a new president of the republic is elected before November 24.

But there is deep concern that rival Lebanese politicians may not reach a consensus on the next president and this means that the current government will continue to run the daily affairs of the state until the political vacuum is filled.

Azour boasted that the Finance Ministry has implemented many fiscal and economic measures, despite considerable political turmoil in the country.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also said in its last report on Lebanon that the government made good progress in terms of economic reforms, despite political troubles.

“Given the strong performance through September, fiscal targets for 2007 are achievable with an ample margin. The authorities expect revenue over performance to continue in the fourth quarter, notwithstanding the shortfall in excises,” the IMF said in its preliminary report.

“All things being equal, financial inflows are expected to continue at a sustained pace through the remainder of the year. This should allow the Banque du Liban to maintain international reserves at their current level or achieve a modest further build-up,” the IMF said.

To back up Azour’s argument, the Finance Ministry said the budget deficit in the first 10 months of 2007 fell to 29.8 percent from 36 percent in the same period of 2006.

The ministry said that the primary surplus, excluding the cost of debt servicing, reached more than LL1 trillion ($666 million) in the first 10 months of 2007 – an increase of 557 percent from the same period in 2006.

Total revenues in the same reporting period reached LL7.372 trillion, an increase of 20.8 percent.

But the government spending in the first 10 months rose by 9.6 percent to reach LL10.503 trillion.

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