BEIRUT — Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said he is ready to launch registration for Lebanon’s long-delayed ration card program as early as next week, but that funding for the program depends on first getting a World Bank-funded cash assistance program that has been delayed for months up and running. He called on Parliament to convene to pass a set of legal amendments that are required before that program can take effect.
Here’s what we know:
• The launch of the so-called “ration card,” a planned $556 million government cash assistance program for needy families, intended to offset the effects of the end of subsidies on fuel and other essential items, was announced in September, with registration originally intended to start Sept. 15.
• The program was intended to provide about 500,000 vulnerable households with monthly cash transfers of an average of $93 per family.
• Registration has still not begun. A source in the Grand Serail last month said the hold-up was due to questions about the eligibility standards and the registration platform and funding for the program.
• Hajjar said Thursday that there had been some bureaucratic holdups, including the need for the implementation mechanism to be approved by the Shura Council, which did not occur until Sept. 28, but that the registration platform is now ready and registration could start as soon as Monday.
• A separate cash assistance program to be funded by the World Bank through a $246-million loan, which will provide assistance to about 160,000 households, has also been delayed multiple times, in part because of changes to the loan agreement that were made by the previous government and approved by Parliament without the approval of the World Bank.
• Parliament had been scheduled to vote on Oct. 28 on a series of amendments that were intended to address the Bank’s concerns and pave the way for the launch of the program, but the session was adjourned early after a dispute over the election law led the Free Patriotic Movement MPs to walk out.
• The ESSN and ration card are separate programs, but registration for both of them is to be done through the same system, via the Impact platform, which was also used for registration in the government’s COVID-19 vaccine program.
• Hajjar said that while there have been “positive discussions” with international donors regarding funding for the ration card, it is contingent on seeing that the ESSN program is up and running. World Bank officials have previously said the same.
• “If [the law approving the amendments] is signed on Monday, we will start registration for the ESSN on Tuesday, and by Dec. 15, we can tell people they will begin to get money,” he said. “... In this time we will show the international community that we have moved forward, we will show them that people have been paid, we will show them that the mechanism is transparent.”
• Hajjar called for Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to schedule a Parliament session to approve the amendments and for Parliament to pass them as soon as possible: “We are just waiting for the amendments and the Lebanese people, specifically the poorest [households], can begin to benefit from this funding,” he said.
BEIRUT — Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said he is ready to launch registration for Lebanon’s long-delayed ration card program as early as next week, but that funding for the program depends on first getting a World Bank-funded cash assistance program that has been delayed for months up and running. He called on Parliament to convene to pass a...