by Naharnet Newsdesk
Finance Ministry Director General Alain Bifani announced Monday that he is resigning from his post “after we reached a dead end and the risk level surged to a level” that he can no longer deal with “silently.”
“We waited a long time for a chance to achieve serious change and we tried to anticipate what we have reached today. We struggled to avoid the worst, but the forces of darkness and tyranny came together to impede what we did,” Bifani said at an explosive press conference.
He lamented that “we still don’t know how much reserves we have left to safeguard people’s food security.”
“Where is capital control at a time the Lebanese are being subjected to a constant haircut” to their bank deposits, the resigned official asked.
Decrying accusations against him, Bifani said “the system has started showing its ugliest features.”
“They fabricated accusations that we have grudges against the banking sector and that we are incompetent, falsifiers and corrupt, but the judiciary will have the final say over these cheap allegations,” Bifani added.
He said bank secrecy must be lifted fully off the accounts of corrupt officials and that there should be cooperation with the authorities of any country in which the embezzlers of public funds might find a safe haven.
Bifani also warned against turning the dollars of depositors into Lebanese pounds prior to “further changes in the exchange rate.”
He also warned against freezing the funds of depositors in a manner that “significantly strips them of their value and deprive owners from using them,” accusing some parties of seeking to deny the losses and evade responsibility.
Bifani held his post for 20 years and has been a member of the country’s team negotiating with the International Monetary Fund.
The Finance Ministry issued a one-sentence statement saying Bifani’s resignation letter has been received by Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni.
Bifani told al-Jadeed TV earlier in the day that his resignation is an expression of rejection to the way the ruling elite is dealing with the crisis. He added that the route taken in the country is “reckless” and this will badly hurt the public.
LBCI TV said that Bifani would continue to work in caretaker capacity. Wazni would present Bifani’s resignation to the Cabinet which in turn will decide whether to approve it or not, it added.
Bifani has been accused of having failed to provide the government with “good figures” regarding the public debt and losses of the Central Bank, thus weakening the government’s position in the negotiations with the IMF.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis called Bifani’s resignation “a loss for Lebanon during the rapidly deepening overall crisis.”
The resignation comes two weeks after Henri Chaoul, a financial adviser to the Lebanese government in the talks with the IMF, resigned, saying there is “no real will” for reforms in the country.
Lebanon, one of the most indebted countries in the world, recently defaulted on its debt an has been negotiating with the IMF for weeks with no breakthrough so far.
The small country is going through an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that has seen the local currency lose more than 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar in recent months amid soaring prices an popular unrest.
Last week, IMF’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that discussions with the Lebanese side have so far not led to a breakthrough on an IMF financial assistance program.
“The core of the issue is whether there can be unity of purpose in the country that can then carry forward a set of very tough, but necessary measures,” Georgieva said.
Despite the spiraling crisis that has significantly weakened Lebanon’s government, it has not taken any concrete steps in fighting corruption or started the badly needed reforms that the IMF and donor countries are demanding to help get the country back on track.