BEIRUT: Disagreements over the issue of key administrative appointments flared up among ministers Monday, forcing a halt of the Cabinet session and threatening to cripple the government’s work, less than two weeks after gaining a confidence vote from Parliament.
The split within the Cabinet forced it to put off important security and judicial appointments until its next session, slated for Wednesday.
However, the Cabinet renewed the contracts with mobile operators touch and Alfa for another three months, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters following a six-hour meeting at Baabda Palace. Under the terms of these contracts, touch and Alfa operate the mobile networks on behalf of the state.
The Cabinet also renewed the four-year terms of the Central Bank’s vice-governors, which expired Monday, for another four years.
He added that the Cabinet accepted last year’s $3 billion Saudi grant to supply the Lebanese Army with arms from France.
The Cabinet session, chaired by President Michel Sleiman, was suspended for more than an hour as ministers from the March 8 and March 14 parties locked horns over key appointments including a new chief of the Internal Security Forces, a state prosecutor and the renewal of the Central Bank vice-governors’ terms, political sources said.
During the break, Sleiman, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and a number of ministers stepped out of theCabinet session to make phone calls.
Sleiman and Salam, backed by March 14 ministers, pushed for the appointment of Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous as the head of the ISF and Judge Samir Hammoud as state prosecutor, the sources said. They also demanded that the Central Bank’s vice-governors’ terms be renewed for another four years.
Basbous, a Sunni considered to be close to the Future Movement, has served as acting ISF chief since Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the current justice minister, retired from the post last year. Hammoud has also been serving as acting state prosecutor.
However, ministers from Hezbollah and allied March 8 parties rejected Sleiman and Salam’s proposals, insisting on a full package of public appointments, the sources said. It was not immediately clear what appointments in the public administration the March 8 ministers demanded.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, crippled by differences among its members, failed to fill hundreds of key vacant posts in the public administration as well as in the military and diplomatic corps.
There were some 30 items on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting, the second since Salam formed a 24-member coalition government on Feb.15, ending nearly a year of political deadlock.
Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, one of two ministers representing Hezbollah in the Cabinet, said consensus among ministers was essential to endorse important issues.
“The Cabinet was formed as a result of consensus, and so was its policy statement. Major issues need to be approved by consensus,” he told reporters before entering the session.
Joreige said Sleiman and Salam stressed the need for the implementation of a government security plan to restore law and order in the northern city of Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley region. The Cabinet did not discuss the oil decrees needed for Lebanon to kick off its licensing auction.