| 7 December 2023, Thursday |

No successor named for Lebanon Central Bank Chief, says Deputy PM

Crisis-hit Lebanon — which has no president and is ruled by a caretaker government — will also have to go without a central bank chief from next week, says the country’s deputy premier.

No successor has been named for the embattled bank governor, Riad Salameh, 73, who steps down after three decades at the helm at the end of July, Saade al-Chami told AFP.

“We need to appoint a central bank governor, in consultation with all political parties,” Chami said, noting however that “conditions are not ready for a new governor to be appointed within a week”.

“There is no other option but for the vice-governors to assume their responsibilities under these circumstances,” he said, adding that Salameh’s mandate will not be extended.

Lebanon has been mired in a painful economic crisis since 2019 that has seen its currency lose around 98 percent of its value against the dollar and pushed most of the population into poverty.

Salameh has been a central figure of the political elite that is widely blamed for the crisis.

He has been the subject of judicial investigations at home and abroad into allegations including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud and illicit enrichment, charges he denies.

Once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, Salameh is now wanted by France and Germany in connection with alleged financial irregularities.

Lebanon, however, does not extradite its citizens.

Now his departure is set to create the latest high-level power vacuum that could plunge the country into further disarray.

Earlier this month, the central bank’s four vice-governors said they planned to resign unless politicians swiftly name an incoming governor.

‘Experts in wasting time’

Lebanon’s central bank governor is named by cabinet decree for a six-year mandate that can be renewed multiple times, based on the finance minister’s recommendation.

If the position is vacant, the law stipulates that the first vice-governor takes over.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is set to meet the vice-governors in the next couple of days to find a solution, Chami said.

“They have some demands, they are asking for the government and parliament’s support to continue their work,” he said.

A senior central bank official told AFP this month that the vice-governors did not want to take the blame for Lebanon’s economic collapse “while the political class continues to buy time”.

Despite the severe meltdown, Lebanese leaders have failed to enact all the reforms required by international lenders to unlock billions of dollars needed to save the economy.

Chami, who also heads Lebanon’s International Monetary Fund negotiation team, said the vice-governors have also called for Beirut to enact much-needed reforms.

Last month, the IMF warned that Lebanon’s failure to implement reforms could have “irreversible” consequences and further jeopardize economic and social stability.

Chami said about the reform demands that, “the more we delay, the harder finding a solution will be,” adding that “we have become experts in wasting time”.

“We are facing a crisis that has been worsening for the past 30 years,” he said. “We really need bold decisions and courage from the decision-makers.”

  • Asharq Al-Awsat