President Emile Lahoud Thursday told Tele-Liban’s new chairman that the state-run station should make satellite broadcasting a top priority, as politicians reacted to a possible shake-up of the Information Ministry and media sector.
“Tele-Liban was once the leader in the Middle East and it should return to this status,” General Lahoud told Ibrahim Khoury, who replaced Jean-Claude Boulos last week.
The TL board is set to study a plan prepared by the station’s outgoing administration that proposed renting satellite space for three hours of daily programming as an initial step.
Meanwhile, sources close to Speaker Nabih Berri said he was surprised by insinuations that his allies were immune to the government’s administrative reform process, which shifted its focus toward the state-run media this week.
At Wednesday’s Cabinet session, Information Minister Anwar Khalil presented ministers with an audit of the ministry’s affairs prepared by a private company.
The report, commissioned at Mr. Khalil’s own expense, can not be officially adopted because it was not produced by a government body.
The audit details “chaos and waste” at the ministry, particularly regarding its hundreds of part-time and contract employees.
It was referred to the Central Inspection Department, which will look into conditions at Radio-Liban, the National News Agency and the directorate of studies.
The report describes a host of irregularities, including payments to contract workers residing outside the country or to those who do not perform work.
Amal official and former Information Ministry Director-General Mohammed Obeid was placed at the prime minister’s disposal at the beginning of the administrative reform drive in January, while observers have maintained that the speaker was behind the appointment of a considerable number of contract workers at the ministry.
“Raising the issue is intended to sow discord among the country’s leadership. Since when have people linked to Berri been imposed on any government department?” a source close to the speaker asked.
“The proof is that the new TL board contains no Berri allies. The fact that no replacement for Mohammed Obeid has been imposed by the speaker is further evidence,” he continued.
The sources complained that whenever two top leaders meet, speculation about the revival of the troika begins, while the lack of meetings leads to interpretations that discord was rife.
Former information ministers welcomed the Cabinet’s approval of investigations into mismanagement and waste, pointing to the lack of follow-up on earlier reform plans.
Koura MP Farid Makari said he “welcomed” the opening of an investigation, telling the Central News Agency that he had requested a restructuring plan several years ago from Mr. Khalil, in his capacity then as minister of state for administrative reform, but that the plan was never implemented. “I’m personally very comfortable with the opening of the information ministry file,” Mr. Makari said. “I don’t think there’s a problem with the contract employees, but with those who receive salaries and don’t work.”
Michel Samaha also welcomed an investigation, noting that a surplus of employees was a major problem at all government departments.
Edmond Rizk, also a former minister, said that a previous study on the contract workers’ situation pointed out that dismissing surplus employees would have “sharp” social repercussions. “The decision was taken to wait for the suitable time before carrying out the recommended solutions,” he added.
Former minister Albert Mansour approved the move, but said “theft and plunder” was common at various ministries, calling for opening investigations throughout the bureaucracy.
Mr. Mansour stated that the Central Fund for the Displaced, the Council for the South, the Council for Reconstruction and Development, several ministries and other bodies all warranted an investigation into their affairs.