BEIRUT: Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and the budget and finance parliamentary committee have failed Tuesday to find an acceptable formula to pay the salaries of civil servants.
Khalil, who emerged from a meeting with the committee members, told reporters that he is not going to authorize paying the salaries of government employees end of this month unless the Cabinet holds a meeting and issues a law to open an allocation for this purpose.
“I am not going to talk on the behalf of the government. Let the Cabinet discuss this issue [civil servants salaries]. I personally am not convinced there is a way out to this matter except to hold a Cabinet session and open an allocation,” he stressed.
The minister reiterated that paying the salaries of the civil servants without an official budget or a legal decision taken by the Cabinet is a violation of the rules and regulation of the Finance Ministry.
Lebanon has been without an official public budget since 2005, the last year when the Cabinet and parliament voted in favor of the bill.
Since 2005, all successive governments have exceeded the official ceiling which was set by the last official budget although most finance ministers who served in these Cabinets say that increasing expenditures was unavoidable in view of the growing expenses, high cost of debt servicing, salary increases for civil servants and the mounting losses of Electricite du Liban.
Khalil submitted a 2014 draft budget to the Cabinet two months ago but this was never discussed by the ministers or passed to the Parliament for voting.
An adviser to Khalil defended the position of the minister.
“Since he took office, Khalil has refused to make any advance payment to any ministry because he does not want to break the law. We can’t keep spending haphazardly without an official budget although the money is there. We don’t have a cash flow problem but we need to legalize all payments in line with the law,” the adviser told The Daily Star.But the adviser stressed that the issue of the civil servants would be resolved before the end of the month because no one could afford to deprive the government employees of their wages.
“I think all concerned parties will find an exit to this predicament. I don’t rule out that the Cabinet will hold a special session to legalize the extra spending. But Khalil for sure does not want to take this responsibility by himself.”
Future MP Ghazi Youssef dismissed Khalil’s threat not to pay the salaries for the civil servants as an attempt to tamper with the nerves of the government employees.
“Whether Khalil likes it or not, the wages of the civil servants will be paid through the Cabinet and not through the Parliament. Articles 26 and 32 allow the Cabinet to open additional allocation and this is what is expected from the Cabinet,” Youssef argued.
Sources close to March 14 forces claim that Khalil’s decision not to pay the wages of the civil servants is politically motivated.
They added that Speaker Nabih Berri is trying his best to hold a parliamentary session to approve the budget although he realizes that March 14 lawmakers will not attend any session unless a president is elected.
But former Finance Minister Jihad Azour warned that the debate over the wages of the civil servants would further damage Lebanon’s credibility among investors and financial institutions.
“The minister is giving the impression that the treasury does not have money to pay the wages although the cash is there,” Azour said.
He wondered why Khalil took so much time to take this decision.
“If he truly wanted to abide by the law, then why didn’t he refrain from paying the salaries the moment he took office?” the finance minister asked.