Among the positives of the parliament’s session, which was held yesterday in an extraordinary session, is the parliament’s approval of implementing the World Bank loan to supply wheat to Lebanon. A loan of up to $150 million qualified as urgent by the financial institution that granted it on May 6 due to the halt in grain exports from Ukraine and Russia, two countries at war since the end of February. If it was approved by the Cabinet on May 12, before his resignation immediately after the May 15 legislative elections, it would nevertheless have to wait two and a half months for the Council to finally meet to approve it.
Food security has already been one of the priority issues since the beginning of the crisis in Lebanon and concerns about this issue have been exacerbated since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, both of which are major exporters of grain in Lebanon and the region. But Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Otaş informed the outgoing Foreign Minister, Abdullah Bou Habib, on Monday, that his country will resume wheat shipments to Lebanon “as of this week”, after signing an agreement with Russia on this issue last Friday.
The reopening of the sea crossing from the Black Sea comes at the right time for Lebanon, which was granted this World Bank loan, which is supposed to last “six to nine months according to international wheat prices,” according to the statements of the outgoing Minister of Economy. And trade, Amin Salam, during a press conference held yesterday in parallel with the parliament session. A loan he described as a “social safety net”. The World Bank has already made it clear, after the May agreement, that this loan should also guarantee the fair and affordable distribution of Lebanese bread to all segments of the population residing in Lebanon, including Syrian refugees. And some deputies yesterday, joined by the same Presidency, did not lose sight of this criterion, who, without any concrete evidence to justify their observations, denounced the fact that this loan will be distributed “to foreigners”, which implies this marginalized category.
The minister also expressed his “hope” that implementation of this loan will start “in the coming weeks”, which is enough to spread panic among some professionals in the sector who fear lifting subsidies as a result. This mechanism, which was put in place by the Banque du Liban at the beginning of the financial crisis, allows the sector to import this basic commodity thanks to financing in foreign currencies at the official rate (1507.5 pounds to the dollar), and at a rate of 100% since the spring of 2021, and not at the parallel market price (about 29,500 pounds in recent days).
While the deputies indicated the possibility of lifting the subsidy during yesterday’s session as a disqualification, noting that it would lead to an increase in the price of bread “between 30 thousand and 35 thousand pounds,” Amin Salam simply denied this information to Lorian – without going into other details. Previously, the Minister mentioned in our columns the idea of a “gradual” lifting of subsidies, but there is nothing concrete in this regard so far in the funds.
In this context, Representative Gebran Bassil requested yesterday that the House of Representatives adopt a recommendation to end subsidies on wheat. The Speaker of the House of Representatives replied, “The decision to end the support is up to the government, it is not within the competence of Parliament.” “We take into account the will of Parliament. If you want to lift the subsidy, you have to make a recommendation to that effect,” responded the Prime Minister-designate.
Towards calm in the crisis
The minister stressed during his press conference that the bread crisis should see an “improvement by the end of the week” and that it should not continue because Lebanon expects to accumulate “50 thousand tons during the next two weeks.” He stressed that the quantity is sufficient for “a month and a half”, noting that the country consumes “36 thousand tons of wheat per month” to produce Arabic bread.
Amin Salam also provided an update on the formation of the new body responsible for implementing the new mechanism to monitor the distribution and use of wheat. It was already announced on Friday that this committee is headed by the Minister of Economy and consists of representatives from the municipalities, the Ministry of the Interior and the Internal Security Forces, in particular the Intelligence and Customs. In this context, he warned that a shortage in the coming weeks would not be justified. A spade has been dubbed some of the professionals in the sector whom he recently accused of being the cause of this baking crisis.
A crisis punctuated by irregular and differentiated shortages by region, which has worsened in recent days. Yesterday, long queues were seen near bakeries in several regions of the country, while images of an attack on one of these establishments in Taalbaya (Bekaa) spread in the media.
Among the positives of the parliament’s session, which was held yesterday in an extraordinary session, is the parliament’s approval of implementing the World Bank loan to supply wheat to Lebanon. A loan of up to $150 million urgently qualified by the financial institution that granted it on May 6 due to…