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Second Lebanese IMF negotiator quits ministry post

June 29, 2020 at 6:44 pm

Alain Bifani, Director General of the Ministry of Finance in Lebanon, on 10 October, 2013 [SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images]

A senior member of Lebanon’s negotiating team with the IMF resigned as finance ministry director-general on Monday, saying vested interests were undermining the government’s economic recovery plan.

Alain Bifani, who held the ministry post for 20 years, is the second member of Lebanon’s team at the International Monetary Fund talks to quit this month.

His resignation underlines the obstacles facing the talks, which Lebanon entered in May, seeking help to tackle a financial crisis widely seen as the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

The government’s draft rescue plan has served as the cornerstone of the talks with the IMF and maps out massive losses in the financial system, which Bifani said stood at $61 billion.

But the talks have been bogged down by a row between the government and the central bank over the scale of losses and how they should be shared.

Bifani told a news conference on Monday that a “criminal campaign” was threatening to thwart the plan.

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“They denied the numbers even though everyone knows the numbers are correct,” he said, without naming names.

Bifani said the dispute was wasting time and costing Lebanon credibility as foreign reserves dwindled further. He said the negotiations were not dead but required a different approach.

He accused those with “interests” of trying to make the Lebanese public pay for losses as the local currency collapses and prices soar.

The Fund has said the government’s figures appear to be roughly the correct order of magnitude but that Beirut needs to reach a common understanding to move forward.

The numbers have been challenged by the central bank, the banking sector, and a parliamentary committee that has cast doubt on the losses and assumptions.

Earlier this month, financial adviser Henri Chaoul also quit Lebanon’s IMF team, saying politicians, monetary authorities, and the financial sector were “opting to dismiss the magnitude” of losses and embark on a “populist agenda”.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said last week that she could not yet foresee a breakthrough in negotiations with Lebanon to help resolve the crisis.