BEIRUT: Currently in Lebanon’s state of political stalemate, the economy seems to be stalled and slow to recover; but looking forward, the shape of the economy and workforce might offer a much more fruitful harvest on the long run.
Some of the key factors driving these positive changes are on the technological edge, with attempts at bolstering foreign investments, as well as facing the challenges and changes of the digital era, put forth by the banking sector.
Examining this "Rethinking Lebanon 2025" played host Saturday to an assemblage of decision-makers, business leaders and financial gurus who assessed the current woes the economy is facing from both an investment and financial perspective.
“The goal of this conference is to identify the most significant changes and challenges to the Lebanese economy in the years ahead; it also seeks to promote a collaboration among the public, private, and education sectors in order to reach a common vision of Lebanon,” said Jihad Hokayem, chief strategiest at JHC financial consultancy and head of Rethink Lebanon 2025.
While a number of high profile financial leaders took part in the discussions over ways to enhance Lebanon receiving of foreign investment during the event, one argument stood out from the rest and was directed toward the country’s banking sector.
Dr. Henry Azzam, general manager and head of the board of directors at Deutsche Bank in the MENA region, considered that the sector is in need of adapting to the growing changes and challenges of the digital era, laying the ground for curbing tax evasion, which would subsequently provide a safer monetary system.
In fact, a recent study done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found that tax evasion and fraud can be further facilitated by the cash economy and the sharing (or online) economy.
“Technology can assist in the countering of tax fraud and evasion, but there must be continuing actions of pro-activity by tax authorities in sharing experience to stay abreast of the tax evasion and fraud techniques as they continue to evolve,” the report said.
This was reiterated by Lina Touma, chief strategist at FxPro, a leading broker company, who emphasized the role of the company's new technology, "Robo Advisor" in assisting investors by tapping into new financial opportunities.
It, however, concludes that technology is not a standalone solution, but features as part of a package. One of these features was echoed by Tarek Zebian, Director of Communication and Research at the Capital Markets Authority, who stressed the importance of educating investors and markets while also adding more financial curricula in educational institutions.
While others, among them Dr. Makram Bou Nassar, executive director at the Central Bank, highlighted the importance of reaching sustainable development on the economic front in hopes of increasing economic growth and monetary stability in the country.
However, Dr. Mounir Rashed noted that Lebanon lacks a welcoming business environment for foreign investors and local startups alike.
Rashed, who was formerly a consultant for the International Monetary Fund, finds that one of the solutions to this unwelcoming atmosphere would be to grant low interest-rate loans, as well as offering tax cuts to businesses, and enhancing the country’s infrastructure.
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