Lebanon News

Parliament set to convene over extra spending

File - MP Antoine Zahra speaks with MP George Adwan at the Parliament in Beirut, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament will likely convene Thursday to pass laws authorizing Eurobonds and extra-budgetary spending necessary to pay public sector employees, politicians from across the political spectrum said Monday.

“I believe Parliament will convene Thursday, as all groups are eager not to paralyze [the state institutions],” Future MP Bassem Shabb told a local radio station.

Shabb said he believed the Future Movement would contact Speaker Nabih Berri in order to reach an agreement on holding the session Thursday once former premier Fouad Siniora returns to Lebanon.

Siniora, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, and Nader Hariri, aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, are currently in Jeddah for talks with the Future Movement leader.

Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, from the Amal Movement, said last week that Parliament should pass a law that would allow the required extra-budgetary spending.

Should Parliament fail to endorse the bill, public sector employees might not receive their salaries by the end of July.

The government is also in need of a law enabling it to issue Eurobonds to finance state needs.

But Shabb said that while various political factions agree on the need to legalize extra-budgetary spending and issue Eurobonds, disputes lingered over a salary scale demanded by civil servants and teachers.

“The salary scale legislation is different, there are differences over its content and how to finance it. This issue can be postponed,” he said.

Echoing Shabb, a March 8 ministerial source said he also believed the legislature would convene Thursday.

Efforts to achieve an agreement to hold the session began during talks launched recently between the Future and Amal movements.

Thursday’s anticipated session marks the first since May 25, when Lebanon was plunged into a presidential vacuum.

March 14 MPs and lawmakers from the Free Patriotic Movement have boycotted legislative sessions, arguing that during presidential void, they would only attend legislative sessions aimed at passing urgent bills.

The March 14 coalition argues that Khalil’s demand for a law to legalize extra-budgetary spending is aimed at pressuring its lawmakers to attend the session.

The Kataeb Party said Monday in a statement after its weekly meeting that public sector employees had the right to be paid, adding that this issue should not be used as a political tool.

The group said that the payment of salaries did not require a law to be passed by Parliament, calling on the Cabinet to issue the required decrees.

Meanwhile, ministers reached out Monday to soothe Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s anger over disputes within the Cabinet, saying they were willing to facilitate the government’s work.

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, Economy Minister Alain Hakim and Minister of State for Administrative Development Nabil de Freij held separate talks with Salam at the Grand Serail, days after reports said the premier was aggravated over disputes within his Cabinet.

Salam had said he would refrain from scheduling a Cabinet session for this week due to lingering differences among ministers over key issues, particularly Lebanese University’s contract professors.

“We have full confidence in Salam’s method to administering [government] affairs in this difficult time, and we are convinced that his wisdom preserves stability ... we have no intention to disrupt the Cabinet,” Bou Saab told reporters after meeting the prime minister.

The Cabinet postponed discussion on the long-awaited LU decree, which includes two vital items – making contract professors full-timers and appointing deans to the university council due to disputes. De Freij, a Future lawmaker, said his party was behind the prime minister all the way if no agreement was reached among ministers.

“Everything happening in the country requires solidarity and we should all be responsible,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the economy minister defended his party against claims that the Kataeb was behind delays in passing the LU decree.

“The Kataeb does not want to disrupt the government’s work. We have a candidate for the dean of the Faculty of Medicine whose name I presented to Minister Bou Saab along with the name of another candidate for the government commissioner in the Lebanese University council. We insist on having a presence in the council just like everyone else,” Hakim said.

But Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt supported the appointment of Pierre Yared, currently the acting dean of the Faculty of Medicine, as a full-fledged dean. In sign of disagreement, Bou Saab’s press office said Monday that a meeting between the minister and Hakim scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the LU problem was postponed.

Separately, Hariri is to make a speech via video link during a Future Movement iftar banquet Friday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 15, 2014, on page 1.




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