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Lebanon News

Rifts over key issues scuttle Cabinet session

  • File - Prime Minister Tammam Salam arrives at the Parliament in Beirut, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam will not call for a Cabinet session this week due to lingering differences among ministers over key issues, such as extra-budgetary spending and the Lebanese University’s contract professors, sources close to the premier said Sunday.

Salam also accused some ministers, whom he did not identify, of obstructing the government’s work and productivity.

The prime minister will only call for a session if agreement is reached among various components of the government over an array of pending issues – including extra-budgetary spending, the appointment of deans to the LU’s council and the salaries of civil servants, a source close to Salam told The Daily Star.

The source said Salam was convinced that some components of his government sought to impede the work and productivity of the Cabinet. “Tensions reached their peak last week and Prime Minister Salam is highly aggravated,” the source added.

The Cabinet last week failed to resolve the thorny issues of employing LU’s contract professors as full timers and extra-budgetary spending, leaving the fate of the state-run university and salaries of civil servants hanging in the balance.

The Cabinet had initially approved giving full-time status to the LU contract professors. But several ministers refused to finalize the professors’ status without approving the appointment of new deans at the university, saying it was a package deal.

Although he ruled out Salam’s resignation, the source said the premier has informed key political parties that he would not accept that matters pertaining to the livelihood of the Lebanese to become overshadowed by political interests and bickering.

The premier refuses to hold counter-productive Cabinet sessions, the source said. “Prime Minister Salam would like various groups to shoulder their responsibilities and find solutions to break the deadlock.

“Therefore, the prime minister will not call for a session this week nor will he distribute the agenda of the session to ministers.”

Following a governing mechanism established in light of the presidential void, Cabinet decisions and decrees require the approval of its 24 ministers.

Salam has also demanded contentious issues be deferred while matters on which the ministers agree be approved.

Salam, according to the source, sees that in Cabinet discussions, no matter how heated they are, the ministers must find solutions to the people’s problems.

He sees that it is not in the public interest that the Cabinet deliberations are made public and used for rhetoric outside the Cabinet, namely the premiership platform at the Grand Serail which is meant to announce the government’s policy and its official decisions, the source said.

The source referred to some ministers who used the premiership platform to disclose the Cabinet discussions, issue political stances to promote the views of their parties or respond to each other.

The premiership does not want its official platform to be used for political battles by the rival factions that would lead to further divisions among Cabinet members, the source said.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said his bloc was willing to attend a Parliament legislative session with a preset agenda, limited to essential matters.

“We are ready to attend any legislative session on which agreement is reached beforehand on its agenda which should be limited to essential issues,” Fatfat told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

His remarks came as an ongoing dialogue between the Future Movement and the Amal Movement had led to a breakthrough over the payment of civil servants’ salaries and the long-running crisis over the public sector’s salary scale bill, a ministerial source told The Daily Star, a move that eventually sets the stage for a Parliament session this week to act on these two issues.The presidential vacuum, now in its second month, has paralyzed Parliament’s role. March 14 lawmakers have attended Parliament sessions to elect a president, but boycotted other sessions on the grounds that Parliament should not legislate in the absence of a president.

Similarly, March 8 lawmakers, while supporting holding legislative sessions amid the presidential void, have boycotted sessions to elect a president before an agreement is reached with March 14 on a consensus candidate.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai slammed lawmakers for failing to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended May 25. He called on lawmakers to go to Parliament and elect whoever they want as president.

Rai accused legislators of evading their constitutional duties by failing to elect a president. “Are our honorable lawmakers from various blocs convinced of the failure to elect a president and its repercussions on the country as a whole?” he asked. “If they are, we tell them that they are betraying their duties.”

Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi called for a quick Parliament session to pass the public sector’s wage hike bill.

“We again call for finding a formula to launch legislative work and for a Parliament session soon to discuss and approve the salary scale bill.”

Musawi told a rally in the southern village of Aitit commemorating the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. “We are today on the brink of issuing the official exams’ results, on which the fate of our students depends.”

The Union Coordination Committee, which represents civil servants and public and private school teachers, has refused to grade official exams unless the wage hike bill was approved by Parliament first.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 14, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

Prime Minister Tammam Salam will not call for a Cabinet session this week due to lingering differences among ministers over key issues, such as extra-budgetary spending and the Lebanese University's contract professors, sources close to the premier said Sunday.

The source said Salam was convinced that some components of his government sought to impede the work and productivity of the Cabinet.

The premier refuses to hold counter-productive Cabinet sessions, the source said.

Salam, according to the source, sees that in Cabinet discussions, no matter how heated they are, the ministers must find solutions to the people's problems.

He sees that it is not in the public interest that the Cabinet deliberations are made public and used for rhetoric outside the Cabinet, namely the premiership platform at the Grand Serail which is meant to announce the government's policy and its official decisions, the source said.

March 14 lawmakers have attended Parliament sessions to elect a president, but boycotted other sessions on the grounds that Parliament should not legislate in the absence of a president.

Similarly, March 8 lawmakers, while supporting holding legislative sessions amid the presidential void, have boycotted sessions to elect a president before an agreement is reached with March 14 on a consensus candidate.


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