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The 2024 draft budget, which has now been submitted by the Finance Ministry, includes a provision to raise the VAT rate from 11 percent to 12 percent as of Jan. 1 next year, according to a copy of the draft seen by L’Orient Today. Under Article 20 of the draft budget, VAT would stay at zero percent for exports and air and sea transport operations. The draft text projects a deficit of LL41.7 trillion over expected revenues worth LL258.9 trillion (just over $3 billion at the LL85,500 to the dollar parallel market rate), mostly generated through taxes. The deficit is nearly 10 percentage points below the deficit projected in the yet-unpassed 2023 draft budget, which was approved earlier this month by the caretaker cabinet. If Parliament manages to adopt the 2024 budget within the specified timeframe — before the end of this year — it will be a first since at least 2005. The Finance Ministry in February set the exchange rate at which VAT is calculated at different values for imports, intertrader sales and retail.
More than 100 judges began an open-ended strike Friday to demand improved compensation and protest delays in receiving their financial aid stipend,as several judges confirmed to L’Orient Today. A statement from 111 judges relayed by the state-run National News Agency said the strike would continue until the magistrates obtain the “minimum means of subsistence.” The striking judges criticized “deplorable working conditions in the courthouses” along with the state’s inability to fund education and healthcare costs. A monthslong judges’ strike ended in January when they were granted a stipend equivalent to an amount between $500 and $1,200. According to one magistrate, judges receive a salary of up to LL6 million (equivalent to $67 at the LL89,500 to the dollar parallel market rate).
Inmates at a prison in Sour were hospitalized Friday after self-mutilating to demand, among other things, improved meal service, better hygiene and time to rest, security sources told L’Orient Today. Local television channel Al Jadeed reported nine people were injured during the protest. In November 2021, a video circulating on social media purported to show prisoners in Roumieh, Lebanon’s largest penitentiary, self-mutilating to protest their confinement conditions. In the most recent condemnation from rights groups, Human Rights Watch reported that Lebanese prisons are well over capacity while the vast majority of inmates have yet to be tried.
State electricity provider Électricité du Liban (EDL) has consulted a Justice Ministry committee on the legality of dollarizing its prices in an attempt to circumvent difficulties obtaining dollars from Banque du Liban that it needs for fuel and maintenance, spokespeople for the utility and the ministry told L’Orient Today. The committee is expected to give its legal opinion on whether the dollarization only requires a ministerial decree or a law approved by Parliament. Last week, caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad announced the cancellation of a fuel shipment that had been docked for weeks on the Lebanese coast awaiting payment. Meanwhile, on the second day of a two-day visit to Lebanon, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian again expressed his country’s willingness to help Lebanon’s ailing electricity sector. “As soon as the [fuel] donation is approved, Iran is ready to send technical teams and equipment to establish 2,000-megawatt power plants,” he said. The Iranian foreign minister also expressed his readiness “to strengthen commercial cooperation with Lebanon.” Lebanon must, however, circumvent US sanctions on Iran before receiving any fuel shipments.
A tender to manage a greater Beirut public bus network is likely to be relaunched next month, Railways and Shared Transportation Authority (OCFTC) head Ziad Nasr told L’Orient Today after it unsuccessfully closed Thursday. Only one bidder was qualified out of the three contestants for a four-year contract to manage 95 OCFTC buses. In January, the OCFTC suspended the operation of 10 buses — out of 50 donated by France — across new lines launched in December due to funding difficulties.
The Internal Security Forces (ISF) launched an investigation into a protest outside the Azerbaijani embassy during which “bottles containing paint and explosives” were thrown at the building, a security source told L’Orient Today on Friday. On Thursday, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement on its website that “a group of about 50 people of Armenian origin had attacked the Azerbaijani Embassy headquarters.” The same day, videos circulated on social media showing dozens of people, some carrying Armenian flags, protesting outside the embassy. The protest comes amid fears of a humanitarian crisis sparked by Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachine corridor, the only road linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh — a mountainous region that is subject to an unresolved territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
After attempts to censor it, “Barbie” will be screened in Lebanese cinemas as of Thursday, around two months after its international release, VOX Cinemas announced on Saturday. Caretaker Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada called for “Barbie” to be banned, claiming it encourages “perversion and gender transformation while calling for the rejection of patriarchy and ridiculing the role of mothers.” Lebanon’s Film Censorship Committee, made up of representatives from several ministries and attached to General Security, told L’Orient Today on Aug. 11 that it had no reason to call for a ban on the film.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from over the weekend: “EDL is trying to dollarize its prices”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz