France to hold virtual aid conference for Lebanon

France will host a virtual aid conference for Lebanon on December 2 with international partners, according to Reuters.

The conference, co-presided by French President Emmanuel Macron and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, will discuss humanitarian aid for the country as it sinks further into its economic and financial crisis. 

Earlier this year, Macron vowed to help Lebanon in its struggles, stating that France will not abandon the country in its time of need. The French initiative has so far been unsuccessful in its effort, as Lebanon remains politically unstable and indebted. 

Macron had given the ruling class a deadline to form a crisis Cabinet by September 15 as part of this initiative. The ruling class failed to meet the deadline due to conflict between political parties over the distribution of the respective ministries, leading ex-Prime Minister designate Mostapha Adib to resign.

Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri, brought in by the ruling class following his forced resignation in November 2019 due to mass protests, has yet to form a government since his appointment in October. Hariri has cited disagreements among political parties as the key reason behind this delay. 

In light of a mass outbreak of COVID-19 with the country nearing 50,000 active cases and the worsening economic situation amplified by the destruction of Beirut’s port, a main artery of the economy, France has decided to resume its effort via this conference.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni predicts that the crisis will only “accelerate in 2021” without the implementation of reforms that are requested before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can consider supporting Lebanon.

The IMF has so far withheld aid from Lebanon in light of corruption and ongoing conflicts within the government, bankers and political parties.

“We are ready, day and night, if we get the call that there is a government willing and able to engage with the IMF. We know what needs to be done,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in a statement.

Wazni took the decision to allow consultancy firm Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to conduct a forensic audit of Lebanon’s central bank. He had refused an audit in July, stating that the political forces he belongs to don’t accept a forensic audit. The minister is a known member of the Amal party, headed by Nabih Berri.

Yesterday, the consultancy firm confirmed its withdrawal from the audit because of the “insufficient provision of information.”

An audit will be a key demand of foreign donors who can help the country exit a financial meltdown. With A&M quitting, it may be a long while before Lebanon receives any aid.