BEIRUT: A Cabinet meeting got underway Thursday amid ongoing disputes over making Lebanese University professors permanent employees and the appropriate mechanism for government spending.
The issue of making LU professors full-time employees is the first item on the Cabinet's agenda, with tension rising as ministers remain adamant in their stances.
Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb said Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, which he represents, was seeking a response from Education Minister Elias Bou Saab as to why a “qualified LU dean has been removed.”
Bou Saab has endeavored to convince all blocs represented in the Cabinet to approve to grant LU part-time professors a full-time job, but he has so far been unsuccessful with Jumblatt in this respect, March 14 parliamentary sources said.
Bou Saab, for his part, said he was ready to answer any question, but added: “I believe matters have taken a political turn.”
On the controversial pay hike issue, Bou Saab has reiterated that the official exams will not be graded until Parliament passes the wage increase bill.
Hezbollah ministers expressed support for Bou Saab.
“No one objected when the minister [Bou Saab] presented his report to all the [political] forces,” Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said.
Meanwhile, LU contract professors held a sit-in at Riad al-Solh Square near the Grand Serail to press the government to fulfill their demands.
On the mechanism for spending and payments of monthly salaries to civil servants, Minister of State Mohammad Fneish said Hezbollah insisted on Parliament passing a law to authorize extra-budgetary expenditure of funds.
Economy Minister Alain Hakim criticized the call to change the procedures for spending: “Things were going fine for the past 11 years. Why do they want to change things today?”
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi echoed the Future Movement and the March 14 coalition positions on spending, both of which insist that the issue of paying salaries for civil servants was resolved by a 2006 law under the mandate of former President Emile Lahoud.
“But we are with making new laws in matters deemed urgent like the eurobonds and state budget,” Rifi told reporters before joining the Cabinet meeting which began around 11 a.m.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil stood firm against any spending without legal approval.
“If there had been irregularities [in past governments] ... I’m not willing to commit violations,” he said prior to the Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
Khalil has vowed not to authorize the July paychecks for civil servants unless the Cabinet issues a law that would legalize the payment of salaries.
Khalil insists 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.
The Cabinet has 80 items on its agenda, including 13 new items; the rest are left over 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 accepting grants from the European Union to finance a project to shore up security in Lebanon and boost the country’s stability and national unity.