BEIRUT: The Finance Minister agreed Wednesday to pay the public sector employees their July wages through an exceptional “but legal” Cabinet decree, on the condition that the next round of spending would be approved by Parliament.
Head of the Finance and Budget Parliamentary Committee Ibrahim Kanaan announced after meeting Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil that the salaries of the public sector employees would be paid for one month so long as it gets Cabinet approval.
According to Kanaan, a legal arrangement will ensure the employees are not deprived of their July salaries, but is only applicable for this month. Payments for the next few months will need parliamentary approval, according to Kanaan.
However, he expressed his concern that the solution would be disrupted by Future Movement ministers’ insistence on repeating the same methods used by previous governments.
Due to the fact that no state budget has been approved since 2005, Cabinets are obligated by law to adhere to the financial ceiling of the last approved budget. Successive governments have resolved the issue by approving extra-budgetary spending, with former Prime Minister Najib Mikati's Cabinet agreeding to an extra LL8.9 trillion in 2011. The Cabinets of former premier Fouad Siniora resorted to taking a similar measure between 2006 and 2009, spending around $11 billion more than the budget officially allowed.
Future MPs had been advocating for this Cabinet to take a similar step, but Khalil has refused to authorize extra-budgetary spending for civil servants unless Parliament signs off on a draft state budget for 2014 he has prepared. His decision has raised fears that public sector employees would not be paid at the end of July.
Future MPs say the ministry has the money to pay the wages but that Khalil was refusing to do so for political reasons.
Khalil also met with Future bloc head former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and MP Ghazi Youssef to discuss the matter.
He later told reporters that the most feasible way to ensure the payments was “to reduce the unnecessary spending from the funds allocated to various ministries according to law 238, and redistribute what is necessary to cover the salaries.”
During the meeting with Siniora, which was also attended by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour and the head of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office Nader Hariri, Khalil said he stressed that he would not accept any additional agreement without an approval from Parliament. He rejected completely the idea of adopting the approval of extra-budgetary spending as previous governments have done.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri met Tuesday at Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence to discuss the dispute over the public sector wages and other obstacles hindering the Cabinet. Although Salam left without making any comments, Khalil arrived just after the meeting and repeated his position that “if Parliament does not approve it wages will not be paid."