BEIRUT - Lebanon's parliament on Wednesday paved the way for the country's first state budget in 12 years, by passing a law to allow the 2017 budget to be approved before auditing previous years' accounts, the minister of finance said.
Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil told Reuters parliament's vote opened the door to the budget's approval when it next meets on Thursday.
Successive governments have failed to pass annual budgets due to a string of political crises since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Passing a budget was a priority for Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's government which took office in January and is a vital and long-overdue step towards reforming Lebanon's fragile economy and preventing rising debt spinning out of control.
A main obstacle to passing the 2017 and previous budgets has been demands from some politicians that an audit of extra-budgetary spending from previous years be carried out.
After two full days of discussion, late on Wednesday parliament approved a law allowing the budget to be passed before such an audit is completed and giving the minister of finance up to a year to carry it out.
Khalil said passing the budget would allow the state to resume work on its obligations "which will reinforce confidence in the state and (its) finances".
The government's annual accounts have not been officially closed and signed off on since 1993, a standard procedure for governments and a constitutional requirement for Lebanon before a new year's budget can be passed.
Parliament will meet again on Thursday for another day of discussing the budget.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Grant McCool) ((email@example.com; +961)(0)(1954456;))