Further pressure on the budget came from Labour Minister Ali Qanso on 13 January, as he warned that the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) will be in dire financial straits by the end of 2003 if not provided with adequate funding. The draft budget cuts NSSF financing to £Leb 20,000 million from £Leb 55,000 million. Qanso also complained that despite allocating the fund an annual £Leb 55,000 million since 1998, the total received over those four years had only reached £Leb 55,000 million. He called on the government and the private sector to settle their debt to the institution, and said: ‘Two out of the three funds of the NSSF, namely the health insurance fund and the retirement fund, are already facing difficulties and are facing a critical financial situation.’ The finance committee will continue to scrutinise the budget for possible amendments before it is presented to parliament again in two weeks.

Better news for Hariri came in a report released by the Finance Ministry on the last auction of treasury bills, illustrating the benefits of Paris II and other signs of international confidence in the capital markets. ‘Interest rates on T-bills of all maturities declined by more than 40 per cent after Paris II, from 16.34 per cent to 9.20 per cent in the last auction on 26 December,’ the report said. Three-month and six-month discount rates were also down, to 6.84 per cent and 7.86 per cent respectively, and dollarisation of the economy decreased to about 69.3 per cent at the end of 2002 compared with about 74 per cent six months previously. $350 million of the Paris II money, from Oman and Malaysia, has already arrived, and $300 each from the UAE and Kuwait is due to be received in the coming days.