Lebanon News

Cabinet to hold air-clearing session after mechanism tension

File - Prime Minister Tammam Salam attends a conference in Beirut, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Cabinet will hold a session Thursday designed to clear the air, following tension among ministers over the government’s decision-making system that has prevented meetings for two weeks.

The session is seen as a test of fragile Cabinet unity after Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared that approving decisions during the 9-month-old presidential vacuum should be based on consensus among the 24 ministers.

The consensus formula would replace the current mechanism, which requires unanimous support from all 24 ministers on Cabinet decisions. Salam had sought to change this mechanism, arguing that it hampered the government’s productivity due to disagreement among ministers on decisions taken by the Cabinet.

Ministerial sources said they expected Thursday’s meeting to be a frank talk session during which ministers would uphold the agreement that had led to the resumption of the government’s activity.

The agreement, reached during Salam’s consultations with all blocs represented in the Cabinet, calls for consensus to be the basis of the government’s work, the sources said.

But if any minister objects to any Cabinet decision relating to a normal matter and on which the majority of political blocs agree, it will not be postponed but will be approved, the sources said. They added that ministers who oppose any decision can register their reservations, something that was not applied in previous sessions before Salam suspended the Cabinet sessions last month following the dispute over the decision-making mechanism.

In addition to agreeing to the Cabinet agenda, the deal calls for all topics on the agenda to obtain prior consent from all major political blocs so that they can be approved with the required speed, the sources said. The agreement also calls on ministers to avoid using the Cabinet sessions as a platform for political duels as had happened in the past, the sources said.

With regard to Cabinet decrees that need the president’s signature after they have been signed by the prime minister, the relevant minister and the finance minister, they would be presented to the ministers to sign them, the sources said.

If one or more ministers refused to sign, the Constitution would be applied in this case, which means that the decrees would become effective after 15 days, the sources added.

According to the sources, it is very difficult to touch on the issue of key appointments in public departments amid the presidential vacuum.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri called Wednesday for a Parliament session on March 11 to elect a new president. Parliament last month failed for the 19th time since April to elect a president over a lack of quorum, plunging the country in a prolonged vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.

Berri said he hoped the government would resume its work in a more effective way, stressing that the country is facing many pressing issues that need to be tackled. During his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri was quoted by MPs as urging Lebanese to show “more unity in order to shield Lebanon” against threats. Referring to the ongoing dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah he has been hosting at Ain al-Tineh, Berri said: “The results achieved by the dialogue are a factor that is defusing tension which emerges in the country every now and then.”

Berri also denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress as a “political invasion of the U.S.,” warning that Washington’s failure to reach a nuclear agreement with Tehran would have bad repercussions globally. “Netanyahu violated political taboos, in addition to targeting the U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement,” Berri was quoted as saying. “The U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement will have a big impact in case it is signed, but the repercussions will be even bigger if it is not signed.”

For his part, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel renewed his call for the election of a president, warning against the country getting used to the presidential vacuum.

Referring to the turmoil in some Arab countries, Gemayel, speaking to reporters after meeting Salam at the Grand Serail, said: “We in Lebanon need to protect our political situation and elect a president ... The most dangerous thing we are experiencing today is to become accustomed to the presidential vacuum in this manner.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2015, on page 1.

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