Lebanon's finance ministry said Tuesday it has proposed a 2001 budget of $6.6 billion, with expenditure totaling more than 50 percent of revenue, as the government tries to jumpstart a struggling economy.
The budget proposal, which needs to be approved by Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's full cabinet and parliament, calls for a 13.5 percent decrease in customs taxes, following a government decision in December to cut the taxes to boost trade and tourism. Customs tax revenue is expected to be $640 million for 2001, down from $749 million for the first 11 months of last year.
The finance ministry attributed the 50.87 percent expected deficit to "the accounting for the first time of all expenses inside the budget, while only assured revenues have been counted."
The ministry also said it was moving away from the austerity policies of prime minister Salim Hoss, in power between Hariri's 1998 sacking and his return to power after 2000 elections.
Hariri had criticized Hoss's tighter budget policies, which he said have paralyzed economic activity. Hariri, a billionaire businessman, has called for more aggressive means to spur growth and bring Lebanon out of recession.
Along those lines, the ministry proposed to devote 13 percent of spending to investing in the country's infrastructure, still recovering from the 1975-90 civil war.
The 2001 budget that had been drafted under Hoss had called for a deficit of just over 38 percent, or $2.3 billion, which was still $243 million more than the approved deficit for 2000. The real deficit for the first 11 months of last year was 52 percent. — (AFP, Beirut)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )