Lebanon hikes fuel prices in effort to ease shortages

The decision was made at an emergency meeting attended by the president, central bank governor and other officials over a fuel crisis that has paralysed basic services and triggered a scramble for fuel.

Lebanese wait in a queue outside a closed petrol station in Beirut’s Hamra district, August 20, 2021. (AFP)

The Lebanese government has said that it was raising gasoline prices by 66 percent in a partial reduction of fuel subsidies as it seeks to ease crippling shortages that have brought the country to a standstill.

The increase in 95-octane gasoline prices would take effect immediately, the government said in a statement on Sunday.

It follows the state’s decision on Saturday to change the exchange rate used to price petroleum products in a bid to ease the shortages.

The fuel crisis worsened this month when the central bank said it could no longer finance fuel imports at heavily subsidised exchange rates and would switch to market rates.

The government, concerned about the impact of price rises, in a compromise agreed with the central bank on Saturday to raise prices, but by less than the market rate, to allow subsidised imports to resume for now.

The rise in prices will mean more hardship in a country where poverty levels have soared during a two-year-long financial meltdown that has wiped more than 90 percent off the value of the Lebanese pound.

The decision was made at an emergency meeting on Saturday attended by the president, central bank governor and other officials over a fuel crisis that has left Lebanon in chaos, paralysing basic services and sparking daily melees as people scramble for fuel.

The price increase does not fully lift the exchange rate for pricing fuel to the exchange rate at which the central bank will finance its import – a gap which the state will continue to finance, for now.

The government said the central bank will open an account for that purpose up to a maximum of $225 million until the end of September – funds the government will have to pay back in the 2022 budget.

Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has arranged for a shipment of fuel from Iran to help ease the fuel shortage in Lebanon.

Fuel rush

Roads have been clogged across Lebanon as motorists have queued for the little gasoline left. Prices have soared on the black market.

Some confrontations over gasoline have turned deadly.

The fuel oil that powers much of Lebanon has also nearly run out, leading to lengthy blackouts.

Reflecting concern about the impact of the price rise, the government decided to pay emergency social assistance to people on the public payroll equal to one month’s pay or pension.

While the government will adjust its fuel import exchange rat e to 8,000 pounds to the dollar, the central bank use a rate determined by its Sayrafa platform which stood at 16,500 pounds on Friday.

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