BEIRUT: The Cabinet Thursday fell short on finalizing the outstanding education dossier and failed to resolve the pressing issue of extra-budgetary spending, leaving the salaries of civil servants hanging in the balance.
The discussion on appointing deans to Lebanese University's council was among some 80 items that were postponed to Cabinet’s next session, delaying the decree that would provide contract professors with full-time employment.
Lebanese ministers initially agreed to provide professors with full-time employment, but a dispute over appointing deans between Progressive Socialist Party and Kataeb ministers prevented the passing of the entire education decree.
Although the decree was not passed, contracts professors who were holding a strike to coincide with the government session celebrated the decision to appoint them as full-timers, a demand they have long rallied for.
Hours after the session began at 10 a.m., ministers allied with the Future Movement exited the Serail, leaving the rest of the Cabinet to merely discuss the remaining items on the agenda.
Cabinet decrees require the approval of its 24 ministers, as per a governing mechanism established in light of the presidential void.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil remained adamant on a new legal framework that would allow him to allocate funds to ministries.
A ministerial source told The Daily Star that the dispute among the ministers would most likely be resolved via contacts between heads of rival groups rather in the Cabinet.
Before stepping into the Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail, Khalil had stood firm against any spending without new legislation approving it.
“If there had been irregularities [in past governments] ... I’m not willing to commit the same violations,” he told reporters.
Khalil has refused to authorize extra-budgetary spending for ministers unless the draft state budget for 2014 he prepared was approved. Khalil’s decision had raised fears that the salaries of public sector employees would not be paid at the end of the month.
He has argued that he can only finance ministries in need of loans via a Cabinet decree or a law issued by Parliament, saying other means of financing was a violation of the Finance Ministry’s rules and regulations.
Due to the fact that no state budget has been approved since 2005, Cabinets are obligated under the law to adhere to the financial ceiling of the last approved budget.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government had faced a similar problem but resolved the issue by approving extra-budgetary spending of LL8.9 trillion (nearly $6 billion) for 2011. The Cabinets of Fouad Siniora resorted to a similar step between 2006 and 2009, spending around $11 billion over budget.
The March 14 alliance has expressed its willingness to attend a legislative session to legalize extra-budgetary spending for the Cabinet only if the extra-budgetary spending by Siniora’s Cabinets was also legalized.
But the March 14 coalition views Khalil’s decision as a political maneuver to revitalize the work of Parliament, which the coalition has boycotted in light of the presidential vacuum.
Speaking to reporters at the Serail, Minister of State Mohammad Fneish said Hezbollah insisted on Parliament passing a law to authorize extra-budgetary expenditure of funds.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi echoed the Future Movement and the March 14 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 the state budget,” Rifi told reporters before joining the Cabinet meeting, which began around 11 a.m.
At the end of the six hour session, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said that the ministers signed a number of decrees approved in previous Cabinet sessions.
The decrees were signed according to the new mechanism of exercising executive powers, which requires decrees to hold the signatures of all twenty four Cabinet members, he added.