BEIRUT

Lebanon News

New president still not on the cards

Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives Prime Minister Tammam Salam in Beirut, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: A Parliament session to elect a new president will not be held Wednesday due to the lack of quorum. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil Tuesday stood firm on his stance not to pay civil servants’ salaries without the legislature’s approval. The development comes as the Cabinet is poised for a heated session Thursday, after intensified efforts have so far failed to resolve the thorny issues of the Lebanese University’s contract professors and extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of public-sector employees at the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun rejected former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s road map to break the presidential deadlock; Aoun is calling for parliamentary polls first, before the election of a president.

With an agreement lacking between the March 8 and March 14 parties on a consensus presidential candidate, the new Parliament session is destined to fail, like previous ones, over lack of a quorum because of an expected boycott by lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, political sources said.

“There is nothing new in the presidential election issue in light of the Parliament session scheduled Wednesday to elect a new president,” Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying by visitors. He said he would call for another session, the tenth during the two-month vacancy in the presidency seat.

Asked about his meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Berri said: “I am working with all my power to separate the presidential vacancy and the obstruction of Parliament sessions from the Cabinet meetings in order to avoid crippling all constitutional institutions.”

Salam met Berri at the latter’s residence in Ain al-Tineh Tuesday to discuss the row over the public sector wages and the dispute among ministers over the LU’s council. Salam did not speak to reporters after the 75-minute meeting.

Asked about the public sector’s wage hike bill and the payment of civil servants’ salaries, Berri, according to visitors, insisted on tackling these issues under the law.

“There is no other choice. There are ideas being discussed to resolve the salaries crisis but always under the ceiling of the law,” Berri said.

Shortly after the Berri-Salam meeting, Khalil vowed that his ministry would not pay public sector salaries until Parliament approved them.

“Any increase in spending needs a legal approval,” Khalil said upon arriving at Ain al-Tineh to meet Berri, following the latter’s talks with Salam. “The file was added to the next Cabinet session’s agenda, but if Parliament does not approve, wages will not be paid.”

Later, Khalil said the Finance Ministry had an enormous financial reserve to pay of public sector wages. “But the problem is the way of payment, which needs a law,” he said.

However, The Daily Star obtained a copy of an alleged memo dated July 14 from Khalil asking all departments at the Finance Ministry to prepare the salaries of the civil servants and end-of-service benefits for the month of July. The Daily Star was unable to confirm the authenticity of the memo.

The parliamentary Future bloc, in a statement after its weekly meeting Tuesday, praised Khalil’s “intention to pay civil servants’ salaries on July 25 before the Eid al-Fitr holiday.”

A member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, Khalil has said that Parliament should pass a law that would allow the required extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of public sector employees.

Ministerial sources told The Daily Star that the passage of the LU decree by Cabinet would only be possible if MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc gave up on naming a dean to the Faculty of Tourism in exchange for keeping Pierre Yared as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine. The appointment of the LU’s council is an essential move for the approval of the employment of the university’s contract professors as full-timers.Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said he had informed Salam that his bloc accepted a proposal for keeping Yared, a Greek Catholic, as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine in exchange for the Druze sect not being represented on the LU’s council.

Separately, Aoun rejected Hariri’s road map, which called for giving priority to the election of a president to be followed by parliamentary elections.

“[Former] Prime Minister Hariri says the president should be elected first. I say Parliament should be elected first and that this Parliament elects its speaker. The Parliament speaker will then call for a session to elect a president,” Aoun said after chairing a weekly meeting of his Change and Reform bloc.

The Future bloc praised Hariri’s road map as “a logical, realistic and solid” plan to end the presidential vacuum. “What matters is to come forward with logical and practical ideas that open a road to overcome the crisis and safeguard the National Pact and the coexistence formula,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2014, on page 1.

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