BEIRUT: Despite a breakthrough in the case of extra-budgetary spending to pay civil servants’ salaries, the Cabinet remains split over the thorny issue of the Lebanese University’s council, threatening its unity and work, ministerial sources said Wednesday.
“The problem of extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of public sector employees has been solved. The Cabinet will issue an authorization tomorrow [Thursday] granting the finance minister a loan to pay the employees’ salaries,” Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi told The Daily Star.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour also told a local TV station that the problem of civil servants’ salaries was “on the way to being solved.”
However, the issue of appointing the LU’s council of deans is still lingering because of differences among ministers. The appointment of the LU’s council is essential for the approval of the employment of the university’s contract professors as full-timers.
A ministerial source told The Daily Star that if differences among ministers over the LU’s council could not be ironed out during Thursday’s Cabinet session, Prime Minister Tammam Salam might propose shelving this issue to another session to avoid divisions within the Cabinet, while moving to discuss other items on the agenda.
“The appointment of the LU’s council is still bogged down between the Progressive Socialist Party and the education minister over the post of the dean of the Faculty of Medicine,” said Azzi, one of three ministers who represent the Kataeb Party in the 24-member Cabinet.
He added that MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement was seeking to appoint a figure from its ranks to the Faculty of Medicine.
Azzi denied reports that the Kataeb Party was also seeking to appoint one of its members for the same post.“The Kataeb Party supports the appointment of a new competent dean at the Faculty of Medicine. We will not sacrifice the university for the sake of a partisan or any other party,” he said.
The LU issue in the main topic on the agenda of the Cabinet session. Differences among ministers over this issue prompted Salam to refrain from calling for a Cabinet session last week.
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.
Ministerial sources told The Daily Star that the passing of the LU decree by the 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. Yared, a Greek Catholic, is currently the acting dean of the Faculty of Medicine.
Abu Faour, from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said Tuesday that he had informed Salam and Education Minister Elias Bou Saab that his bloc accepted a proposal for keeping Yared as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine in exchange for the Druze sect not being represented on the LU’s council.
Azzi accused Bou Saab, who belongs to the FPM, of politicizing the LU issue. He said he would propose during the Cabinet session the employment of the LU’s contract professors as full-timers and finalizing the appointment of the deans in an academic manner.
As part of ongoing efforts to resolve the issue of extra-budgetary spending, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil met with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc; Nader Hariri, head of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office; and Future MP Ghazi Youssef. The meeting was attended by Abu Faour.Siniora refused to comment on the meeting when contacted by The Daily Star, saying that Khalil was working on a solution to the problem of civil servants’ salaries.
Khalil had earlier met with MP Ibrahim Kanaan, head of the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee, who said that 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 next spending would be approved by Parliament.
Kanaan said the salaries of the public sector employees would be paid through a Cabinet procedure only for July. He added that payments for the next months would need a parliamentary approval.
A member of Speaker Nabih 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.
Meanwhile, Berri adjourned until Aug. 12 a Parliament session to elect a new president after not enough lawmakers showed up to achieve a two-thirds quorum for Wednesday’s session.
Only 57 lawmakers, mainly from the March 14 coalition and Berri’s bloc, showed up, compared with 65 and 75 in previous sessions, well below the 86 of the legislature’s 128 members required to convene the session.
Lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, have thwarted a quorum by boycotting the sessions since April, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate.
Lebanese Forces MP Strida Geagea blamed Aoun’s bloc for the obstruction of the election of a successor to ex-President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25. “I hold once again the opposite Christian party in Lebanon fully responsible for the dangers stemming from the obstruction of the presidential election, in such a sensitive phase through which the region is passing,” she said in Parliament after the session’s postponement.