http://almashareq.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_am/features/2019/03/13/feature-02

Economy |

'Cedre' projects aim to create jobs for Lebanese, Syrian refugees

By Junaid Salman in Beirut

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A Syrian farmer works at a farmland in Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Lebanese law permits the employment of Syrian refugees in three sectors: infrastructure, environment and agriculture. [Junaid Salman/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanon has begun preparations to implement projects endorsed at the April 2018 Cedre conference in Paris which aim to boost its economy.

International donors at the conference pledged to grant soft loans for the establishment of investment projects totaling $11.8 billion in value.

On February 18th, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri held an initial consultative meeting with Arab and international donor financial institutions to discuss the steps needed to expedite the implementation of the conference's decisions.

The meeting was followed by a visit to Lebanon by Pierre Duquesne, the French inter-ministerial delegate for the Mediterranean in charge of following up on the implementation of the Cedre conference resolutions.

"The Lebanese government does not have the luxury of time and must act quickly," Duquesne said at a March 1st press conference.

The projects endorsed by the Cedre conference, totaling nearly 250 projects, will provide thousands of jobs for Lebanese youth and can also utilise the labour force supplied by refugees in Lebanon.

The projects contained provisions that estimated the job opportunities each will provide for the Lebanese and for Syrian refugees.

"Lebanese law permits the employment of Syrian refugees in three sectors: infrastructure, environment and agriculture," al-Hariri's adviser for economic affairs Nadim al-Manla said following the February 18th meeting.

Creation of job opportunities

One of the main objectives of the Cedre Conference is "job creation through the endorsed investment projects", Nasser Yassin, director of research at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, told Al-Mashareq.

"These projects require a labour force, and the Syrian refugees are, of course, part of it," he said, noting that the infrastructure sector garnered the bulk of the investment projects to be implemented.

"It is well known that Syrian labourers make up the bulk of the labour force in the [Lebanese] construction sector, and thus the refugees can benefit from the opportunities that will be available," he added.

Work on Cedre conference projects has begun and more meetings will be held between international institutions, Lebanese banking sector institutions and private companies involved in financing the endorsed investment projects, said Maurice Matta, head of the economy department at An-Nahar newspaper.

The first meeting discussed each project separately and attempted to develop an implementation plan for it, he said, noting that the projects will take a year or perhaps more to show effect on the ground.

However, Matta added, "some projects, by their very nature, will attract workers from the refugee population, such as infrastructure projects".

Focus on infrastructure projects

"The bulk of the projects put forth in the paper presented by the Lebanese government at the Cedre Conference are primarily infrastructure projects," said economist Jassim Ajaka.

These include projects in the transport sector ($8.8 billion), water ($4.9 billion), sanitation ($2.7 billion), electricity ($5.6 billion), telecommunications ($700 million), waste management ($1.4 billion) and culture, tourism and industry ($1.2 billion).

"Most of the jobs that will be created suit Syrian refugees and can attract thousands of them," he told Al-Mashareq.

But the primary objective of the investments is to stimulate local economic growth and create jobs, said Ajaka.

"Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said the Cedre projects will create 900,000 jobs over their 10-year span," he said.

"Economic growth can only be stimulated by increasing the income of the largest number of households in Lebanon," he said, adding that investments cannot be effective if they do not benefit households.

"Lebanon has no way out [of its economic crisis] other than to obtain the loans and grants provided by Cedre," economist Kamel Wazne said.

There is a consensus among political parties to implement the Cedre measures as that will lead to the development of the required infrastructure, contribute to revitalising the country and stimulate the national economy, he told Al-Mashareq.

The advantage that these loans offer, according to Wazne, is that they will be spent on development projects, which means that "they will be investment expenses, and not current expenses or expenses to pay the debt service".

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