BEIRUT: The Cabinet meets Thursday amid signs that it will not be able to overcome some thorny issues, at the forefront of which is the employment of contract-based Lebanese University (LU) professors as full timers, political sources said Wednesday.
The decree that would make LU’s contract professors full-time employees was on the Cabinet’s agenda last week but was postponed until Thursday in light of objections by ministers from the Kataeb Party and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party. The issue of LU’s contract professors is the first item on the Cabinet agenda.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab met Tuesday with Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel in a bid to overcome the Kataeb opposition to the decree on the LU’s contract professors. The party opposes the fact that the number of contract professors targeted by the decree has risen from 700 to 1,200 and insists that every contract professor should satisfy the required criteria for them to become a full-timer.
Despite Bou Saab’s efforts to convince all political parties represented in the Cabinet of his plan concerning the employment of LU’s contract professors as full timers, he has not so far been successful with Jumblatt in this respect, the sources said.
A committee from LU’s contract professors, who have been on strike for weeks, sent an open letter to the Cabinet, urging it to approve the decree on hiring them as full timers “so that the situation at the university can return to normal and teachers end their strike.”
Another issue that will not be resolved during the Cabinet’s meeting is the Syrian refugee crisis with the absence of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil who is currently in Brazil.
Bassil’s proposal to contact the Syrian government to discuss the establishment of refugee camps on Syrian territories was opposed by Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas and drew reservations from Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Salam says negotiation with Damascus would violate the dissociation policy called for since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in March 2011.
Syria has rejected the building of refugee camps on its territory.
The Cabinet will discuss the issue of paying wages of civil servants amid differences among key political parties making up the Cabinet and the ongoing row between Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and the March 14 coalition over the legalization of extra-budgetary spending.
Khalil said Tuesday he would not authorize paying the salaries of civil servants at the end of this month unless the Cabinet issued a law to open an allocation for this purpose. He reiterated that paying the salaries of state employees without an official budget or a legal decision taken by the Cabinet is a violation of the Finance Ministry’s rules and regulations.
Khalil has called on Parliament to either approve the 2014 budget or pass an exclusive law allowing the government to spend over the last approved budget.
Parliamentary sources in March 14 parties said these parties refuse to legislate in the issue of paying civil servants’ salaries as demanded by the finance minister because this matter was resolved in a law that has been in force since the mandate of former President Emile Lahoud. While the presidency seat remains vacant, the March 14 parties will not fall into the trap of luring them into legislation on normal matters, but they are ready to discuss attending a Parliament session to issue Eurobond treasury bills, the sources said.
The Cabinet has 80 items on its agenda, including 13 new items; the rest were left from last week’s session. Among the important items are a request for new Internet lines for the E-government, ensuring the Army’s needs and requirements, and gifts from the European Union to finance a project to shore up security in Lebanon and boost the country’s stability and national unity.
Meanwhile, Bou Saab reiterated that the official exams would not be graded until Parliament passed the wage hike bill, calling on political parties to keep education away from their rivalries.
“Things remain the same: no salary scale and no legislative session to pass it, which is a big essential problem,” Bou Saab told reporters after meeting with a delegation from the Union Coordination Committee at his office at the Education Ministry.
Just before the meeting with Bou Saab, the UCC had announced that there would be “no academic year in September without the approval of the salary increase,” during a sit-in at the Education Ministry. The academic year in Lebanon normally begins in the second half of September.
Employees at public administrations, institutions and municipalities observed a daylong strike Wednesday in line with the UCC’s call for a job action every Wednesday as part of the union’s pressure on Parliament to approve the wage hike bill.
The UCC, which represents civil servants and public and private school teachers, also observed a 24-hour sit-in at the Ministry of Education.
Speaking to MTV Wednesday night at the sit-in, UCC head Hanna Gharib said: “If the salary scale bill was not approved, there would be no correction of exams or certificates.”