Postage stamps are a great source of revenue for a state’s treasury. As tiny and fragile as they are, these stickers generate millions of dollars for the Lebanese government annually.
But recently, these stamps have been contributing to the financial drought in Lebanon after they began gradually disappearing from the market.
Since the last cabinet acquired its “caretaker” title, the publisher responsible for printing the government’s postage stamps saw a performance decline. Why?
Because sometime after the government resigned, the Finance Ministry’s contract with the publishing company “Dar Lebnan” comes to an end. And naturally, the ministry could not have signed a new contract when it was in the caretaker phase.
And only after PM Hassan Diab’s cabinet gained the parliament’s vote of trust did it become possible for the new Minister of Finance to begin resolving this issue. However, doing so takes some time.
This delay, however short it may be, affects not only the treasury’s income but the citizens’ ability to settle legal transactions and finalize thousands of possibly urgent paperwork.
“The ministry has started to address this crisis, if only partially,” an official source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The temporary patch devised by the current Ministry of Finance involves printing a limited amount of lower-value tax stamps that should be enough to satisfy demand in 2020.
“An estimated 8 million stamps from the 250 Lebanese pounds category” will be printed soon, pending the completion of the new contract that allows the production of another 8 million of 1,000+ LBP stamps. But there’s another problem.
Currently, the relatively scarce stamps that are available in the Lebanese market are reportedly being monopolized by many sellers.
“Stamps are not permanently lost from the market, the same source said, “but there is a monopoly for their sellers who hide them, convert them into a black market, and sell them at doubled prices.”
In the meantime, the stamps crisis is very negatively affecting whatever business transactions Lebanese citizens and private companies can conduct today.
“There is a real problem in the payment of financial fees, bills, and V.A.T because companies are unable to export these bills without revenue stamps,” a financial expert explained.
For now, the Ministry of Finance has implemented a temporary solution for more urgent situations such as real estate and car sales.
It allows some institutions to collect the price of a stamp in advance, without pasting one onto the legal papers, in return for a receipt bearing the value of the stamp.
The official source described the shortage of stamps to be “an emergency that represents a serious crisis,” because the income that tax stamps generate is “one of the treasury’s most important revenues.”
Because the Lebanese treasury is partially dependant on stamps for income, the source noted that “there must be a reserve of more than 50 million revenue stamps, to ensure long-term supply, as is the case for wheat, flour, and basic commodities.
“This problem should be a wake-up call,” he said, “to alert officials not to fall into the crisis again.” In any case, the source expects the stamps crisis to be resolved in the coming weeks.