BEIRUT: Angry civil servants fed up with a months-long delay in the referral of wage scale to Parliament carried held a protest Thursday outside Beirut Port.
A crowd of about 300 public workers, spearheaded by the head of the Union Coordination Committee Hanna Gharib, gathered at the entrance of the port, shouting slogans against Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has refused to bow down to strike pressure, and his government.
“You can fund the salary scale through the ports’ [customs fees],” Gharib said, addressing the government.
“Smuggling via the Port is not done by employees but by tycoons,” he complained, while praising Port workers who responded to the UCC call for protest.
The president of the Association of State Employees Mahmoud Haidar, for his part, warned the government against taking money from the poor.
“You are not allowed to finance the salary scale from our pockets or the pockets of the poor,” he said.
“You must fund it through the pockets of those who have been smuggling money over the past 20 years and are responsible for $60 billion in public debt.”
From Beirut Port, the demonstrators marched to the nearby Zaitunay Bay waterfront promenade.
Describing the marina venture as illegal, Gharib said Zaitunay Bay with restaurants, cafes and boutiques was owned by a Cabinet minister.
“Zaitunay Bay ... was established through the Treasury from peoples' money under the pretext of building a port,” Gharib said.
He said Treasury funds were given to real-estate giant Solidere with the right to invest for a period of 50 years, renewable at LL2,500 per meter annually.
Solidere is a joint-stock company in charge of planning and redeveloping Downtown Beirut following the conclusion in 1990 of the country’s devastating civil war.
The UCC on Wednesday vowed to bring the already strike-crippled public sector to a complete halt ahead of a key Cabinet meeting scheduled for next week.
“All administrative paperwork will be completely halted at the Finance Ministry, the Justice Ministry and real-estate registration offices until March 21,” Gharib said Wednesday.
All public schools and most government services have been shut since the UCC launched its open-ended strike Feb. 19.
Citizens and business owners have complained that obtaining essential paperwork has become impossible.
The UCC, which represents civil servants and public school teachers, will target Beirut airport Friday.
A new salary scale for the public sector was approved by the Cabinet about seven months, but the decision was put on hold for further study due to the lack of financing and strong opposition from the private sector’s Economic Committees.
Mikati has argued the Cabinet needs more time to look into means to finance the pay hike before he refers the draft law to Parliament for a vote.