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On Lebanon, IMF Talks Up Oil, Money-Laundering & Resolution in Syria

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 31 -- In the International Monetary Fund's just release Lebanon report the word Syria appears no less than 59 times, blamed for nearly everything. But the report at page 6 acknowledges:

Lebanon could not create sufficient jobs even before the Syria crisis. According to the World Bank, only some 3,800 jobs were generated per year (one for every six new entrants to the labor market) in 2005–09. Reflecting insufficient job opportunities, the unemployment rate stood at 11 percent in 2011, slightly above the MENA average of 10 percent. Like in the MENA region, unemployment was much higher among the youth -- over one third of labor force participants aged 15 - 24 are unemployed. Around half of the labor force was employed in the informal sector.”

The IMF opines, “Without a resolution in Syria, economic performance is expected to remain weak.” But what kind of resolution?

As good news, the IMF says

Lebanon might become a commodity producer over the next decade, with petroleum set to be an important source of government revenue. Recent seismic surveys suggest that Lebanon’s oil and gas resources could be in excess of 25 trillion cubic feet (tcf). While not particularly large by international standards, this estimate still points to the potential for a substantial revenue increase for many years (though not starting before 2020 at the earliest).”

For now, on delinquent loans held by Lebanese banks, the IMF “staff called for an improvement of loan classification and restructuring rules. The increase in loans under watch and the widespread use of overdrafts warrant tighter rules guiding the classification of NPLs and the restructuring of loans, including re-aging of overdrafts and arrears” (Yesterday Inner City Press reported on Cyprus non-performing loans and the foreclosure scheme the IMF is demanding, here.)

Also on Lebanese banks, the IMF “encouraged progress on the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. A better understanding of the source of deposits and adequate identification of beneficial owners would allow more effective monitoring of transactions and strengthening of risk-based supervision—necessary to enhance the integrity of the financial sector.”

The IMF report contains as an annex a “Statement by Mr. Shaalan on behalf of the Lebanese authorities” -- of whom while there the IMF met with Prime Minister Salam, Minister of Finance Khalil, Governor of the Banque du Liban (BdL) Salame -- the IMF met with that says “Lebanon’s AML/CFT regime is in practice fully compliant with international standards, and Lebanon’s financial intelligence unit, the Special Investigation Commission, actively cooperates with its foreign counterparts.” We'll see. Watch this site.


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