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Lebanese lenders could face 25% tax under government reform program

Lebanon's government could impose new taxes on banks and insurers as part of an economic reform package, as it takes steps to deal with an "economic emergency," according to media reports.

Anti-government protests spread across the country in the week of Oct. 14 due to the government's decision to impose a levy on WhatsApp calls, amid a stalling economy with GDP growth of just 0.3% in 2018.

The banking sector has come under pressure with the profitability ratios at Byblos Bank SAL, Blom Bank SAL and Bank Audi SAL all deteriorating in the first half.

Under the proposed reforms, Saad Hariri's government could impose a 25% tax on banks and insurance companies, Al Arabiya reported.

Lenders could be asked to provide up to $3.3 billion in contributions to achieve a "near zero deficit" for the 2020 budget, according to Reuters. Banks would also be required to provide funding to establish power and recycling plants, Gulf News said.

Saad Azhari, chairman of Blom Bank, said Lebanon is going through a challenging phase.

"Although we are going through a tough period, serious economic reforms will be ultimately implemented in areas relating to fiscal sustainabilities, governance, public enterprises and quality of investment climate," he told The National.

Lebanon will establish new regulatory bodies to deal with corruption, and the reforms are also set to extend to electricity and telecommunications sector, the latter of which could be privatized.