BEIRUT: Parliament passed Monday a draft law to cover public spending for 2012 after introducing amendments, ending months of bickering between March 8 and March 14 groups over state expenditure. The legislature also resolved the thorny issue of Electricite du Liban part-time workers, endorsing a draft law to make electricity fee collectors and on demand workers sit for a closed-contest to become full-time employees.
During the first of a two-day legislative session, an amendment was introduced to the draft law which initially allocated LL11.561 trillion ($7.67 billion) in advanced payments and treasury loans, reducing the amount by 20 percent to 9.248 trillion.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Parliament that former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora voiced concern that the government does not intend to prepare the 2012 budget, replacing it by the draft law.
“But we stressed that before the end of July, the draft budget will be forwarded to Parliament,” he added. The last time Parliament endorsed a budget was in 2005.
The premier said that the additional allocations would cover the state’s expenditure until the end of October.
The agreement came just hours after Mikati discussed the draft law with Speaker Nabih Berri, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Siniora and Chouf MP George Adwan, from the Lebanese Forces.
Shortly before the passing of the draft law, Mikati, Siniora, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, and Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, were seen entering and exiting the hall. The session was also attended by Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh.
The draft law to make EDL part-time workers full-time employees saw fierce debate between Energy Minister Gibran Bassil and Beirut MP Mohammad Qabbani, the chairman of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee.
Qabbani accused Bassil of “lying,” when he claimed that the EDL workers in question do not get paid by the company, but from contractors working for EDL.
Several amendments were introduced to the draft law. Contract employees and temporary workers were dropped from the list of workers who will become full time employees.
Also amended was the role of the Civil Service Council, which will now “hold” an examination limited to EDL workers, rather than merely “supervising” the process.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, the Kataeb bloc and Lebanese Forces opposed the draft law, asking for further amendments.
Parliament also passed a long-awaited traffic law, discussed by MPs over the past nine years. The law saw a lengthy debate, as lawmakers discussed whether MPs and other state officials should retain their special license plates.
Qabbani, who authored the 420-item draft law along with Internal Security Forces, presented to MPs a version of article 154, which tackles the thorny issue of license plates.
According to the article, MPs, ministers and top officials will keep their distinguished plates and MPs will still have blue license plates. The draft law was opposed by several MPs who called for treating all people equally, and was passed without article 154’s inclusion. Berri promised that a draft law addressing the matter would be on the agenda of the first upcoming legislative session.
The legislature also passed a draft law allowing the government to issue Treasury loans in Lebanese liras and dollars to pay the LL120 billion it owes to private hospitals accumulated between 2001 and 2011.
MPs ratified a $200 million loan agreement to implement a project to channel the waters of the Awali River on the northern entrance to Sidon to Beirut. The agreements are between the Lebanese Republic and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
At the beginning of the session, March 14 MPs lashed out at the government and its inaction on Syrian violations of Lebanese sovereignty. Syrian troops crossed into Lebanon and briefly detained two General Security members.
Lighter moments also found their way to the session. When Beirut MP Nabil de Freij, from the Future Movement, asked about the exact law which stipulates that MPs have blue license plates, Berri asked: “Don’t you support blue?”