Port reconstruction, medical imports squeezed, BDL audit: Everything you need to know to start your Friday

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A delegation from Hamburg Port Consulting is set to present its proposal for restoring and revitalizing the Beirut port this afternoon. (Credit: P.H.B.)

A delegation from Hamburg Port Consulting will present its proposal for restoring and revitalizing the Beirut port this afternoon. The delegation met with caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Thursday to discuss the proposal’s details. Caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Michel Najjar said it would cost about $10–15 billion, adding that the cost wouldn’t fall on the state without providing further information. The investigation into the disaster is dragging on slowly, with the chief investigator set to decide Monday on a request for the release of 11 junior employees and security officials who were arrested in relation to the blast.

The Arab League has offered to lend a hand to help solve Lebanon’s political and economic crises. Houssam Zaki — the assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, of which Lebanon is a founding member — called on “everyone to put the national interest above all other considerations.” He said his organization is prepared to help mediate Lebanon’s government formation deadlock if it is invited to do so. President Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri, who was nominated to head the government, have yet to come to terms almost eight months since the last government resigned. The proposition marks the international community’s latest bid to pressure the political class to break the government formation stalemate.

With food insecurity in Lebanon looming, the bakeries syndicate announced that bread will now be sold only by bakers and no longer be distributed for sale by third-party vendors like supermarkets. The syndicate said the move is being taken in protest against the Economy Ministry’s recent decreases in bread prices, which it says don’t factor in rising production costs. On Wednesday, the Economy Ministry lowered the price of bread by about 2 percent. The syndicate’s decision comes as Lebanon seeks deeper into desperation amid multiple crises, with profound consequences for residents.

The medical equipment and devices importers’ syndicate will no longer sell products that have not been paid for by the central bank. With Lebanon’s economic collapse accelerating, importers have had to limit what products they give to hospitals, Salma Assi, the syndicate’s head, previously told L’Orient Today. Imports of basic medical equipment, like gloves and gauze, have all but dried up in recent months as cash-strapped commercial banks struggle to meet foreign exchange requests. Importers in multiple sectors have accused BDL of delaying dollar payments to suppliers abroad, saying it is leading to shortages in not only medical supplies but also fuel, although the central bank has denied this claim.

Already beleaguered depositors at Lebanese banks received more bad news after the caretaker finance minister warned their deposits are at risk of being lost. Speaking with Bloomberg, Ghazi Wazni said the possibility of losing deposits “exists for all depositors … but it is not inevitable,” stressing the need for structural reforms to revamp the country’s financial sector. The first step to carrying out these reforms is the forensic audit of Banque du Liban. A meeting on the future of the audit was held Tuesday, with the Finance Ministry announcing that the central bank would cooperate. However, Michel Aoun denied this apparent breakthrough in a televised speech the next day, saying Tuesday’s meeting achieved no concrete results. He said another meeting would be held today.

 

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