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MPs eventually bound to resolve wage hike row: source

File - Speaker Nabih Berri reads in Parliament a letter from President Michel Sleiman urging MPs to elect a new president, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (The Daily Star/ Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers are bound to reach an agreement on the salary scale despite the debate over the ceiling of projected revenues and expenditures, a source close to the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri said Friday.

“I don’t think the MPs will pass the salary hike bill on June 19 because some of the lawmakers may boycott the session under the pretext that the election of the president of the republic should be the first priority. But eventually the deputies will have to agree on some formula to pass the salary scale to avoid a confrontation with the Union Coordination Committee,” the source told The Daily Star.

Berri met Friday with Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and head of the budget and finance parliamentary committee Ibrahim Kanaan to narrow differences over the controversial salary scale.

The source said Berri was keen to resolve the issue of the salary hike for civil servants and public school teachers as soon as possible and was determined to hold talks with all the MPs until the matter came to a positive conclusion.

Former Prime Minister and MP Fouad Siniora have refused to endorse the bill under its current form because this would lead to financial and economic disaster.

Siniora and the Future Movement want the lawmakers to further lower the allocation for the salary scale and adopt reform measures in order to cause the budget deficit to rise to alarming levels.

The source explained that even those who have strong reservations about the bill, are fully aware that any further procrastination could encourage the civil servants and public school teachers to escalate the strikes and sit-ins across the country.

There is deep concern that the continued strikes by the civil servants may have a dire impact on the revenues of the Treasury.

Some circles estimated that the Treasury could lose at least $55 million a day if all the civil servants observed an open ended strike.

The lawmakers agreed on a series of tax measures to finance the salary scale, such as increasing taxes on interest on customer deposits and increasing fees on the registration real estate.

But the MPs failed to agree on a proposal to increase the value added tax ceiling from 10 percent to 12 percent and apply heavy fines on the illegal properties that were built along the Lebanese coast.

The UCC rejected any tax that could affect the poor and middle classes but strongly favored higher taxes on banks, companies and wealthy individuals.

Other MPs believe privatizing the electricity sector would save the Treasury $2 billion a year at least.

“I am confident that the lawmakers will reach an acceptable formula for the salary scale even if radical reforms were needed to finance the salary hike,” the source said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

Lebanese lawmakers are bound to reach an agreement on the salary scale despite the debate over the ceiling of projected revenues and expenditures, a source close to the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri said Friday.

The source said Berri was keen to resolve the issue of the salary hike for civil servants and public school teachers as soon as possible and was determined to hold talks with all the MPs until the matter came to a positive conclusion.

Former Prime Minister and MP Fouad Siniora have refused to endorse the bill under its current form because this would lead to financial and economic disaster.

Other MPs believe privatizing the electricity sector would save the Treasury $2 billion a year at least.


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