BEIRUT: Quorum for this week’s legislative session to discuss the controversial public sector wage hike will be secured, political sources told The Daily Star Saturday, as Education Minister Elias Bou Saab pleads with lawmakers to avert a crisis.
Lawmakers with the March 8 group including MP Michel Aoun’s Change ad Reform bloc will attend the session along with MP Walid Jumblatt's bloc, securing needed quorum for the session, the sources said.
Although Jumblatt's National Struggle Front bloc has voiced reservations on some items in the draft law, MPs will attend in solidarity with Speaker Nabih Berri.
"Even if the March14 coalition boycott the session, quorum would be secured due to the presence of the March 8 and Jumblatt's MPs," one of the sources said.
Nevertheless, the March 14 coalition parties are expected to take part in Tuesday’s session only after they are certain of others' attendance in order not to appear “as though the coalition is disrupting the work of Parliament.”
Earlier in the day, Bou Saab made a plea to Lebanese lawmakers to attend this week’s Parliament session and approve the wage hike, remaining adamant on holding official exams despite the teachers’ boycott.
Speaking to reporters after meeting a delegation from the Private Educational Institutions Federation, Bou said Change and Reform bloc lawmakers would attend Tuesday’s legislative session and that he would resume his contacts with the various blocs to convince them of the need to secure quorum.
“I want to issue a desperate call for all Parliamentary blocs to head to Tuesday’s legislative session and help pass the salary scale bill,” Bou Saab said.
“Any disputed item in the draft law should be put up for a vote.”
The Union Coordination Committee plans to hold a general strike on June 9 and June 10, as well as a series of protests and a boycott of official exams starting June 12 to press Parliament to approve the salary scale bill. The UCC represents civil servants, and public and private school teachers.
Teachers have also said they would boycott of official exams, which prompted Bou Saad to announce earlier this week that Brevet exams would be postponed from June 7 to June 12, while Baccalaureate exams would be postponed from June 12 to June 16, and from June 22 to June 27.
The minister said it was of utmost importance to hold the official exams on the scheduled time to safeguard the 2014 school year, adding that failure to do so would "create an educational crisis."
“The official exams could be held with the approval of the teachers ... if not, we will not abandon our role in the issue. I will adopt unconventional, unprecedented means to hold the exams,” he said.
Refusing to elaborate on the backup plan in case teachers insist on boycotting the exams, Bou Saab said he could use contract teachers and members of the Parents Committees to monitor and correct the tests.
"Students should be prepared to take their exams on the scheduled dates," he said.
Hours after Bou Saab's news conference, the Committee of Contract Teachers announced they would monitor and correct official exams, saying the minister promised to refer their demands of full-time employment to the concerned parties and pay them transportation fees for every exam day.
The March 14 coalition lawmakers’ decision to attend this week’s legislative session to discuss the wage hike hinges on a prior agreement on the draft law, Future MP Ghazi Youssef said.
“We are consulting with our March 14 coalition parties on whether to attend but if there is no prior agreement on the salary scale's numbers, March 14 MPs might not attend Tuesday's session,” Youssef told Al-Mustaqbal daily in remarks published Saturday.
He noted that the session would be used for “political outbidding” and would be fruitless if lawmakers failed to agree beforehand on the draft law.
Lawmakers are in dispute over means to finance the wage hike, expected to cost the treasury some $1.6 billion annually, including raising the rate of VAT from 10 to 11 percent, as well as proposed taxes on illegal seafront properties.
Youssef blamed Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil for the failure to reach consensus on the numbers, saying the minister refused to attend meetings of a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with studying the bill.
“We have asked him on several occasions to attend but he refused, so there are no new developments,” he said.
Lawmakers from major Christian parties boycotted a May 27 Parliament session intended to discuss the salary scale bill in protest at the failure to elect a new president.
During the news conference, the education minister said he would continue his talks with the various blocs and urge them to attend the session.
Bou Saab met with Speaker Nabih Berri Friday and said he would hold talks with the head of the Future bloc Fouad Siniora as well as members from the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb Party blocs.
He also said that MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc would attend the session.