BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri, due to lingering differences among parliamentary blocs, Tuesday ruled out a legislative session this week to pass draft laws on extra-budgetary spending to pay civil servants’ salaries and to authorize the government to issue Eurobonds.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam, meanwhile, warned that the situation was deteriorating as a result of attempts to paralyze the roles of Parliament and the Cabinet amid the presidential vacuum.
“I am keen on holding a legislative session before the end of the month in order for [government] employees to get their salaries,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying.
“Of course, the [public sector’s] salary scale bill does not need a meeting of Parliament’s Secretariat because it is already on the agenda. If the answer [from the Future bloc and its allies] is positive supporting the session, we will convene a meeting of Parliament’s Secretariat and approve an additional agenda,” he said, in a clear reference to the controversial wage hike bill.
Berri was quoted as saying that if the parliamentary Future bloc’s answer was positive, he would call for a Parliament meeting either next week before a session scheduled to elect a president on July 23 or after it.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, from Berri’s parliamentary bloc, said last week that Parliament should pass a law that would allow the required extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of public sector employees.
The presidential election stalemate, now in its second month, has paralyzed Parliament’s work and is threatening to cripple the Cabinet’s work. Salam did not call for a Cabinet session this week due to unresolved differences among ministers over the key issues of extra-budgetary spending and the employment of Lebanese University’s contract professors as full timers.
Asked if the Cabinet’s role would remain crippled, Berri was quoted as saying: “I reject that the Cabinet’s work be stopped even for one minute. If the country is in a crisis as a result of the failure to elect a president, shall we plunge it into another crisis by disrupting the work of the Cabinet and Parliament?”
“Despite everything, I repeat that Lebanon has an opportunity and is still better than the neighboring countries. We must seize this opportunity and elect a president and revitalize the work of institutions,” the speaker was quoted as saying.
Asked who was responsible for this situation, Berri said: “All the political class, including myself.”
Berri’s remarks come as his Amal Movement has engaged in dialogue with the Future Movement designed to defuse Sunni-Shiite tensions and resolve some key political issues such as the payment of civil servants’ salaries and the wage hike bill.
March 14 MPs and lawmakers from the Free Patriotic Movement have boycotted legislative sessions, arguing that during presidential void, they would only attend legislative sessions aimed at passing urgent bills. For his part, Salam warned that the situation in the country was deteriorating as a result of the disruption of the roles of Parliament and the Cabinet amid the vacancy in the presidency.
“I have always been keen to be transparent and clear with the Lebanese. Therefore, I warn that the general situation in the country has begun retreating as a result of the obstruction that hit the legislative authority and has begun spreading to the executive authority and all institutions, with all the negative repercussions this entails on the people’s interests,” Salam said.
Speaking during an iftar hosted by the Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya at the BIEL complex Tuesday night, Salam said the country faced vital issues that needed quick solutions to avoid major financial and socioeconomic crises. Among these issues, he cited the Syrian refugee crisis, the soaring public debt that needed a quick decision to issue Eurobonds, the oil and gas exploration, the salary scale bill and the LU’s contract professors.
“In addition to these issues, there is the major security concern which requires a maximum deal of national unity to ward off internal and external dangers from the Lebanese,” he said.
He added that the security situation in Lebanon was strong and under control despite last month’s three suicide bombings. Salam reiterated his support for the principle of political consensus within his Cabinet.
The Future bloc rejected charges that it was boycotting Parliament or legislative sessions.
“The bloc considers that Parliament’s primary mission at this stage is to elect a new president. For this substantial and National Pact reason, the bloc sees that legislative action should be confined to main and essential issues which fall under the category of utmost necessity,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former premier Fouad Siniora.
The statement said the bloc was ready to attend any legislative session relating to essential issues, such as the 2004 state budget, issuing Eurobonds or the salary scale bill.