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Berri condemns constant state paralysis

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri during a legislative session in Beirut, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri Tuesday condemned excuses by lawmakers to disrupt legislative sessions under the pretext of a presidential void as well as some MPs flip-flopping on the public sector wage hike bill.

Berri took advantage of the lack of quorum during the legislative session, which was scheduled to resume discussion on the new salary scale, to address lawmakers and clarify his stance on the boycott of Parliament.

“I know that quorum is not secured now, but I want to say that what happened today does not serve electing a new president for the Lebanese Republic,” Berri said, after lawmakers from the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party, and the Future bloc among others failed to show up.

“Disrupting an institution leads to the disruption of others and is in violation of the Constitution, which speaks of cooperation between the government’s branches,” he said. “If a government resigns, everything stops, and if there is a delay in election a new president, everything stops in this country. I think we should not allow the presidential election, which is the election of the highest head of state, to be hostage to personal interests.”

Berri said there were various motives behind disrupting both the legislative and the executive branches, accusing some lawmakers of trying to avoid talks on a new electoral law and “holding the parliamentary election altogether.”

As per a presidential decree signed by former President Michel Sleiman before the end of his term on May 25, Parliament is to open a round of legislative starting June 2 to Oct. 20 to study state budgets as well as outstanding draft laws including a new election law.

Christian lawmakers and ministers refuse to attend Parliament or participate in Cabinet sessions except to discuss urgent issues. However, the Cabinet is working on a mechanism to govern its work amid a presidential void.

“The first and second and third goal today is to elect a new president. But that cannot be over the bodies of other institutions,” Berri said. “No one can teach me lesson about how Parliament should work.”

The speaker spoke extensively about the salary scale saga, which has been a contentious point for three years with lawmakers failing to agree on means sufficient to cover the wage hike expected to cost some $1.6 billion annually.

“During discussion, some lawmakers agreed to increase taxes on bank profits, but in this arena, it is hard to take the money out of the mouth of [money] wales,” he said, using unions’ term for rich people.

He also criticized some lawmakers who seek an agreement on the bill outside Parliament, saying the Finance Committee and later the subcommittee worked “day and night to amend the bill” before it was referred to the full assembly.

While vowing not to approve any bill that would hurt the ailing economy, Berri said MPs were able to cover the draft law’s expenditures.

“I vow to you today and the Lebanese people that I will not approve a salary scale that fails to include sufficient revenues,” he said. “Parliament has already agreed on revenues of $1.2 billion and we sought to increase the VAT on some goods including alcohol as well as fining illegal seaside properties.”

“To please some of [lawmakers], we agreed to scrap fines on illegal seaside properties and other proposals ... and proposed an increase on fees on more than 500 kilowatts of electricity.”

Berri said lawmakers agreed to most of the items on the agenda.

He said Parliament agreed to decrease the wage hike by 10 percent to fully cover its cost, “but old habits die hard.”

“And now they’re saying that we need to [stop legislation] for the sake of the presidency. We are all keen on the presidency.”

Before postponing the session to June 19 to finish discussion on the wage hike, Berri said: “But I say to the education minister that you cannot hold the official school exams in this climate and be careful so that we do not ruin the country and reach a point of no return.”

 

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Summary

Speaker Nabih Berri Tuesday condemned excuses by lawmakers to disrupt legislative sessions under the pretext of a presidential void as well as some MPs flip-flopping on the public sector wage hike bill.

Berri took advantage of the lack of quorum during the legislative session, which was scheduled to resume discussion on the new salary scale, to address lawmakers and clarify his stance on the boycott of Parliament.

Christian lawmakers and ministers refuse to attend Parliament or participate in Cabinet sessions except to discuss urgent issues.

While vowing not to approve any bill that would hurt the ailing economy, Berri said MPs were able to cover the draft law's expenditures.

Berri said lawmakers agreed to most of the items on the agenda.


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