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WEDNESDAY, 16 APR 2014
07:14 AM Beirut time
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Showdown feared in Parliament over state spending, EDL workers
The Lebanese cabinet. (The Daily Star)
The Lebanese cabinet. (The Daily Star)
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BEIRUT: Parliament is scheduled to meet Monday in an extraordinary session to debate and approve 33 draft laws, including two contentious bills on state spending and contract workers at Electricite du Liban which threaten to trigger a confrontation between MPs from the March 8 and March 14 blocs.

Among draft laws to be debated by lawmakers Monday and Tuesday is a bill to allocate LL11.561 trillion ($7.67 billion) to cover public spending for 2012 and a draft proposal aimed at making contract workers at EDL full-time employees, parliamentary sources said.

Last month, the Cabinet resolved the spending crisis that had paralyzed its work for months by approving advanced payments and treasury loans worth over LL11 trillion ($7.3 billion) to cover public administration expenses for 2012 and finance projects in Tripoli and other areas.

With the opposition March 14 lawmakers rejecting the Cabinet’s extra-budgetary spending, political sources said contacts have been intensified among parliamentary blocs in an attempt to reach a consensus on the LL11.561 trillion draft law during the two Parliament sessions.

March 14 MPs have linked the approval of the Cabinet’s overspending bill to legalizing $11 billion in extra-budgetary spending from 2006-10 by two governments headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. March 8 MPs have rejected linking the two issues.

Similarly, the draft proposal aimed at making EDL contract workers full-time employees threatens to spark a row within the parliamentary majority itself after lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc had rejected the proposal.

Parliament’s joint committees passed a draft law last month allowing all EDL contract workers to take examinations that would give them the chance to become full-time employees.

Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, who belongs to Aoun’s bloc, had proposed allowing 700 out of the 2,800 workers into the selection round while the rest would be employed by private sector service providers for a three-month probation period.

But Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal-led parliamentary bloc, together with the blocs of Hezbollah and March 14 constituted a majority in the committees and voted for all 2,800 workers to be included in the selection process.

The contract workers have staged open-ended strikes for over two months demanding full employment at the state-run company. This has left EDL struggling to conduct vital repairs and collect bills, and led to a severe power rationing across the country.

Commenting on Parliament’s legislative session, Metn MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s bloc said Sunday: “We are going to tomorrow’s session with the principle of preserving the state’s prestige, institutions, laws, [sectarian] balance and the need for its departments. We put everyone before their responsibilities.”

He said the joint committees had passed a draft law to make all EDL contract workers full-time employees without taking into account EDL’s staffing requirements, sectarian balance and the need for examinations.

He accused March 14 MPs of blocking the government’s attempts to legalize overspending by thwarting a quorum in previous Parliament sessions.

“There is a central decision by MP Fouad Siniora and his allies linked to the $11 billion spent in the past contrary to law and the Constitution,” he said.

“There is a constant attempt to block the way to any legalizing of spending with the aim of imposing a compromise on the Lebanese. We affirm our rejection of any compromise. We caution the Lebanese that those who thwart a quorum or the approval of additional allocations at tomorrow’s session bear the responsibility for obstructing the people’s interests.”

Other important draft legislation on Parliament’s agenda are a draft law authorizing the government to issue treasury bills in Lebanese pounds or in foreign currencies; a proposal to sign a loan agreement between Lebanon and the World Bank to finance the implementation of the second Educational Development project; and a draft proposal aimed at including notaries public in the civil service, a parliamentary source said.

Other draft laws call for settling the reconstruction of buildings devastated by the 2006 Israeli aggression on Lebanon, and amending some articles in Law 25/2008 and its amendments related to parliamentary elections.

Parliament’s agenda also includes an urgent draft law that calls for making contract teachers full-time employees at the Education Ministry and a draft law authorizing the government to endorse the bylaws of the Arab environment sector.A draft law calls for amending Law 422, dated 15/5/1995 (the building of a structure to accommodate members of Internal Security Forces, General Security, the State Security, the Parliament Police and military customs officers) with a view to exempting housing loans from some dues and taxes.

Other draft laws call for authorizing the government to join the Agreement signed in Washington in 1973 on International Trade in species of animals and plants threatened with extinction, and for endorsing a loan agreement between Lebanon and the World Bank to implement a project to supply Greater Beirut with water from the Al-Awali River.

Parliament will debate a draft law authorizing the government to join the Maritime Labor Convention and another proposal promoting Directorate General of General Security inspectors with a university degree to a rank of first lieutenant.

MPs will discuss a draft law calling for amending Law 75 dated 3/4/1999 on the protection of literature and arts property and an urgent draft proposal calling for conducting free regular tests for early detection of breast and prostate cancer.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 02, 2012, on page 1.
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