29 September 2007

Beirut slashes red tape for new businesses

BEIRUT: The prolonged agony of registering a new company in Lebanon may be coming to an end thanks to a new agreement between the government and LibanPost on Friday. The new system permits an entrepreneur to hire a legal representative and prepare an application and supporting papers from any LibanPost branch where the payment is made. All these procedures, according to the government, should not take more than six days.

Previously, starting up a business in Lebanon entailed hiring a legal representative, collecting a series of forms and documents, visiting numerous government institutions, and paying several fees to these institutions. Companies seeking registration complained in the past that the procedure used to take more than 45 days just to get a stamp of approval from the government.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Finance Minister Jihad Azour, Justice Minister Charles Rizk, Justice Minister, Economy and Trade Minister Sami Haddad, LibanPost board chairman Khalil Daoud and a representative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC)

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signed an agreement at the Grand Serail Friday which aims to cut the time, cost, and complexity of the registration process by providing a simple guide to be followed by both local business owners and foreign concerns that wish to open new branches within the country.

Lebanon ranks 132nd in the 2007 "Doing Business" report prepared by the IFCIFCLoading..., the private-sector arms of the World Bank. The report provides measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 178 countries.

According to the report, it takes an average of 46 days to register a business in Lebanon, with an average cost of 94 percent of annual income per capita, compared to 11 days for registration and an average cost of 25 percent in Tunisia.

The reform is expected to boost the stagnant business function in the country.

"We are in great need of such reforms in order to encourage investments by business owners who are ill-informed and confused about the complexity of the old registration system" said Siniora.

Business-registration costs are expected to be cut down by an estimated 50 percent, according to Haddad, encouraging start-ups that create new jobs in the market.

Referring to increased competition in a globalized economy, Siniora stressed how creating a healthy and efficient economy would also encourage foreign investors to start their businesses in Lebanon. "We are a part of the global economy, in which every nation competes with one another," he said.

According to Siniora, the Lebanese government must encourage investors to come to Lebanon because other countries in the region are also racing to win foreign investments.

The Parliament, which has been inactive since November last year, did not partake in the new reform.

"The new registration system is not a product of the Parliament's legislation" the IFCIFCLoading...'s Thomas Moullier told The Daily Star, adding that each ministry had undertaken reforms to pass on the new system.

"When the Parliament reconvenes, we can expect to pass a law on business registration that would meet international standards," said Haddad, adding: "Business owners would register within two days with 90 percent lower registration costs."-(Zawya)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.