The Lebanese government approved on Wednesday the 2012 state budget draft, referring it to parliament,while Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) had been funded.
Speaking to reporters after chairing the cabinet meeting that approved the budget at the Grand Serail, Mikati said Lebanon transferred its share toward the STL’s funding Wednesday morning in the same manner it did last year.
"Lebanon paid its share of the funding this morning outside of the state budget,” he revealed.
"The funding was transferred the same way as last year and it was not necessarily done through banks," he explained without giving further details.
"Lebanon has fulfilled its pledge to fund the tribunal," Mikati said.
Lebanon’s 2011 contribution towards the tribunal was paid from the budget of the state-run Higher Relief Committee, which operates under the prime minister’s office. Last year’s share of $32.6 million was donated by Lebanese banks.
The news came as ministers endorsed the 2012 draft budget after stripping it of all new taxes that were mentioned in the earlier bill.
After weeks of debate among ministers, the Cabinet agreed to endorse the draft budget of LL21 trillion ($14 billion) with a projected deficit of LL5.6 trillion, or 26.6 percent.
Mikati asserted that the new bill had not raised taxes on luxury items, and hoped to appease the private sector.
The bill calls for minor fees on fiscal stamps and a small fee on first-class passenger tickets.
"These fees are quite small and will not have any effect on the public," he explained to reporters.
Rumours have been circulating that the draft budget would contain taxes on luxury items such as alcohol and tobacco.
But the government appeared to drop this option to avoid infuriating a private sector still reeling from a weak tourism season.
Speaking in a press conference after the cabinet session, Mikati said that ministers went through all of the 105 items.
"We have approved some of these items, modified some and cancelled the rest. I believe that the government has fulfilled its promise and [has] endorsed all the final figures in the new draft budget," Mikati said.
The prime minister stressed that the closing of accounts for the previous years will be thoroughly reviewed by the Finance Ministry to ensure their authenticity and accuracy.
The closing of accounts became a bone of contention between March 14 politicians and MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, which accused the former PMs Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri of manipulating these accounts and spending public money without any oversight.
The Finance Ministry official admitted that the draft budget was not very ambitious, as it did not contain any significant new elements.
According to financial experts, the legislature is not likely to approve it before the end of the year, which is the date of approval for the 2013 budget.
If adopted, Lebanon would have the first budget since 2005.
Mikati was asked at the end of the press conference about the criticism directed at his government by the March 14 coalition, He responded in one sentence: "I care for nothing as long as I'm by God's side."