BEIRUT: Contacts are ongoing to resolve the Cabinet dispute over the Lebanese University decree despite major hurdles and partisan interests blocking an agreement on long-awaited appointments to the university's council.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, a member of MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam to discuss a possible solution to the deadlock that has crippled the government’s work.
Ministerial sources said the passing of the LU decree would only be possible if Jumblatt's bloc gave up on naming a dean to the Tourism College in exchange for keeping Pierre Yared as the dean of the Medical College.
Jumblatt is adamant that Yared, a Greek Catholic who is the current acting dean, remains in office.
The dean of the Tourism College is reserved for the Druze sect, while the dean of the Faculty of Medicine is a Maronite.
The Kataeb Party and the Free Patriotic Movement are both seeking to appoint a figure from their own party to the Faculty of Medicine.
Sources in the FPM said the party insisted on naming a figure to the Medical College, a demand expected to further complicate the situation and delay discussion of the LU decree during this week’s Cabinet session.
After holding off on any Cabinet sessions until consensus was reached, Salam was reportedly convinced to call the session by ministers who argued that failing to hold a meeting was not in the interest of the country.
The LU decree includes two vital items to the university – appointing deans to the council and hiring contract professors as full-time lecturers. The ministers had initially agreed on the latter.
Meanwhile, Future MP Imad Hout said the public sector salaries should be resolved as soon as possible or else "we would be facing a true collapse of the state.”
Speaking to The Daily Star, the lawmaker said the dispute between head of the Future bloc MP Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri remained, which he noted was a sign that negotiations would be a difficult task.
"The solution should be comprehensive and inclusive of all financial issues through one legislative session or several ones,” he said. “The priority is to pay salaries to the civil servants, then reach an agreement over the salary scale bill and then legalize the extra-budgetary spending of former Prime Minister Siniora's Cabinets.”
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, from Berri’s Amal Movement, has insisted that the funds cannot be released without a new law from Parliament, while Siniora claims this is not necessary and that the current government can pay salaries as previous governments have done without resorting to the legislature.
The March 14 alliance, particularly the Future Movement, expressed its willingness to attend a session to legalize extra-budgetary spending on the condition that the extra spending under Siniora’s term was retroactively legalized.