World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn promised "tremendous" support to Lebanon, which suffers from a debt of about $25 billion, if it decides to "live within its means."
"You have to do two things: either to stop borrowing or change your behavior and I think the president understands it very well," said Wolfensohn after meeting President Emile Lahoud.
"If the country decides to change its behavior and live within its means then I think you'll get tremendous support from the outside community and certainly the World Bank will be in the lead in trying to do that," he said.
Wolfensohn applauded a series of measures adopted by the government of billionaire Rafiq Hariri since its formation in October — particularly tax cuts, in order to revive the economy, but said they were "not sufficient."
Wolfensohn said Lebanon needed a "comprehensive program" to kick start growth and address longstanding economic ills, including the spiraling debt.
A Lebanese official who did not wish to be identified told AFP that the Hariri government secured a promise from Wolfenson to reschedule some $400 million in loans previously allocated by the World Bank to fund development projects in Lebanon and which were due to expire in March.
Since the end of its devastating 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has received around $750 million in World Bank loans, of which some $400 million remain un-disbursed due to delays by parliament in endorsing projects for which the amount was earmarked.
Wolfensohn said the World Bank was ready to help Lebanon in privatizing public utilities, urging to give priority to services suffering great losses, in order to reduce the public debt.
During a joint press conference with Hariri, Wolfensohn repeatedly urged Lebanese leaders to "come together" and end political bickering in order to "restore internal confidence."
On Thursday, the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh, told AFP that the economy should grow by three to four percent in 2001, after two years of stagnation. — (AFP, Beirut)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )