Beirut - Since the beginning of 2022, Lebanon’s diplomatic missions abroad have not received their operating expenses, while ambassadors and employees are still waiting for the transfer of their accumulated salaries since May.
The sharp decline of foreign currency reserves at the central bank (Banque du Liban) prompted Governor Riad Salameh to adopt unprecedented austerity measures that have affected the conditions of the country’s diplomatic missions. Those are paid in US dollars, unlike public sector employees, who work inside Lebanon and receive their salaries in Lebanese pounds.
There are currently 89 diplomatic missions, including 74 embassies and 15 consulates, while the total annual salaries of diplomats amount to about USD30 million.
Two years ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began implementing a harsh austerity plan that significantly reduced missions’ expenses.
In the past weeks, the ministry issued several circulars to the heads of diplomatic and consular missions, revising rent allowances and salaries of ambassadors and employees, and canceling all annual allocations for celebrations and receptions.
Lebanon has been mired in what the World Bank classified as one of the worst economic and financial crises since the mid-19th century. The central bank consumed most of its hard currency reserves, which led to the scarcity of the dollar and the devaluation of the local currency.
“Delay in transferring salaries and covering operational costs stirred discontent among the diplomatic missions, which we fully understand,” sources at the foreign ministry said.
Last year, caretaker minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Abdallah Bou Habib, pointed to the presence of 12 embassies and consulates that can be closed down, based on expenditures, imports and diplomatic value; but no decision has been taken yet in this regard.
In February, Lebanon told embassies to look for donors to help cover their running costs.