BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati cannot call for a Cabinet session to discuss oil and gas licensing without political consensus and while such a meeting remains unconstitutional, the caretaker Economy and Trade Minister said Monday.
“We are not in a normal procedure,” Nahas told The Daily Star in an interview. “We are in a situation which is governed by the Constitution.
“You need to have all the constitutional and political elements to convene this Cabinet session, but these elements are missing and for this reason he [Mikati] cannot call for a meeting to pass the two decrees for gas auction.”
Mikati has resisted calls to hold an extraordinary Cabinet session to pass the two decrees that would set the stage for gas and oil licensing and determine the share the state would get from future oil revenues.
Nahas, a political ally of Mikati, stressed that the prime minister was not against the idea of speeding up the auction for gas licensing but had deep reservations about the manner in which the issue was being handled.
“If the Constitution gave Mikati leeway to pass the two decrees then he would not hesitate. But this is not case now,” Nahas said.
Caretaker Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil said in TV interview over the weekend that he would ask the ministers to sign a petition calling for an extraordinary session and send this memo to both President Michel Sleiman and Mikati for approval.
But sources told The Daily Star that Mikati would not bow to any pressure due to his belief that the caretaker Cabinet was not authorized to hold such meetings – under any pretext.
The sources said Mikati would prefer that the new Cabinet handle the file of oil and gas licensing.
Bassil has postponed the offshore gas auction from Nov. 10 to Jan. 10 2013 to give politicians more time to hold an urgent Cabinet session.
Bassil admitted there were differences between the Free Patriotic Movement and Amal Movement on the number of blocks that should be open for auction.
He wants to open five of the 10 blocks for auction while Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri wants all of the 10 blocks to be auctioned off.
But despite these differences, both parties are in favor of holding a Cabinet session so that the ministers can vote on the two decrees.
Nahas also said that the World Bank and donor countries had told him that financial assistance to help Lebanon cope with the large number of Syrian refugees would only materialize if a new Cabinet was formed.
“The World Bank has presented a full study on the economic and financial effects of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon and the actual needs of the government. This dossier has been presented to the donor countries in Washington and they will study it carefully before deciding on the actual figures.”
He added that it was not the fault of the donor countries and the West if the Lebanese could not agree on the composition of the new Cabinet.
“It is time for the Lebanese to wake up. This is a signal and huge message that your differences are costing Lebanon a big price,” Nahas said.
He added that once the World Bank study had been examined, the West and the Arab countries would hold a donor meeting to pledge financial assistance for Lebanon.
The minister also insisted that growth in Lebanon this year would be reasonable despite some of the negative indications.
“ Lebanon will have a GDP [gross domestic product] growth of 2 percent at the end of 2013 and this is quite reasonable under the current circumstances,” Nahas argued.
He added the drop in government revenues was not too alarming this year: “Up to July of this year, total government revenues fell only by 2.2 percent and this figure is quite acceptable.”
The minister also estimated inflation in Lebanon was only at 4.8 percent: “We import most of our needs from abroad and for this reason the consumer prices remained relatively low in the country.”
About 70 percent of Lebanon’s imports from Europe and importers use foreign currencies to buy the products.