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LU dispute sets stage for heated Thursday Cabinet session

Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Thursday, July 10, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: A flurry of political consultations has so far failed to make any breakthrough in the thorny issues of the Lebanese University’s contract professors and extra-budgetary spending, ministerial sources said Monday, setting the stage for a heated Cabinet session this week.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish and Health Minister Wael Abu Faour met separately Monday with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail as part of ongoing efforts to resolve the Cabinet dispute over the appointments of the LU’s council, an essential move for the approval of the employment of the university’s contract professors as full timers.

“There are no signs indicating a breakthrough in the dispute over the Lebanese University,” Fneish, one of two ministers representing Hezbollah in the Cabinet, told The Daily Star.

He blamed the other [March 14] side for blocking an agreement within the Cabinet on the LU issue. “Efforts are ongoing to resolve the dispute over the Lebanese University,” Fneish said, sounding pessimistic about finding a solution before the Cabinet session slated for Thursday.

He added that the solution to the problem of extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of public sector employees at the end of the month lay with Parliament rather than with the Cabinet.

Abu Faour, who belongs to MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, met Salam to discuss ways to break the LU deadlock threatening to cripple the government’s work. He did not speak to reporters after the meeting.

But a source close to Salam said no progress had been made.

“Abu Faour’s meeting with Salam was part of ongoing consultations to finda solution to the Cabinet deadlock over the LU’s council and the extra-budgetary spending. But no breakthrough has been made,” the source told The Daily Star.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 Faculty in exchange for keeping Pierre Yared as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

Jumblatt is adamant that Yared, a Greek Catholic who is the current acting dean, remains in office. The dean of the Tourism Faculty is reserved for the Druze sect, while the dean of the Faculty of Medicine is a Maronite.

The Kataeb Party and MP Michel Aoun’s 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 Faculty of Medicine, a demand expected to further complicate the situation and delay discussion of the LU decree during the Cabinet session.

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.

Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, currently stuck in a row with the March 14 coalition over the legalization of extra-budgetary spending, met Monday with a delegation from the Future Movement lawmakers headed by MP Jammal Jarrah.

The meeting was part of the ongoing dialogue between the Future and Amal Movements to resolve key political issues, including the extra-budgetary spending and the public sector’s salary scale bill.

Khalil, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, has said that Parliament should pass a law that would allow the required extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of public sector employees at the end of this month.

In the face of Khalil’s insistence that the funds cannot be released without a law from Parliament, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future bloc, argues that this is not necessary and that the current government can pay salaries as previous governments have done without resorting to the legislature.

Siniora renewed his rejection of the controversial wage hike bill for civil servants in the absence of solid revenues to fund the salary increases.

“The Future Movement publicly supports the approval of the salary scale bill for teachers and employees. ... But the problem that is blocking the achievement of this aim now is the absence of serious and reliable revenues that can cover the salary scale expenditures,” Siniora said after meeting with a delegation from the Coordination Union Committee, which represents civil servants and public and private school teachers.

Meanwhile, Siniora and Nader Hariri, head of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office, met Kataeb Party leader and former President Amine Gemayel to brief him on Hariri’s road map to break the 2-month-old presidential stalemate.

The three discussed the deep crisis that has so far prevented the election of a president and the risks entailed by the vacancy in the presidency at the internal and external levels, according to a statement released by Gemayel’s office. “They agreed on the necessity of reviving state institutions and electing a president capable of confronting events and their repercussions.”

Gemayel and Jumblatt praised Hariri’s road map for giving priority to the presidential election.

Hariri’s “road map came at the right time to give a dose of momentum to the presidential election,” Gemayel said in remarks published by Al-Mustaqbal newspaper. He agreed with Hariri on the need to give “priority to the presidential election.”

In an interview with Al-Mustaqbal, Jumblatt said: “The presidency should come first [since] it is the path to address the country’s crises.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 22, 2014, on page 1.

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