Lebanon News

Glimmer of hope on spending dispute

Prime Minister Najib Mikati meets Minister Jubran Bassil & Minister Mouhamad Fneich & MInister Ali Hassan Khalil. Monday, June 04, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

BEIRUT: Talks held Monday by March 8 ministers with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Sleiman made progress toward a compromise to resolve the issue of legitimizing state spending, a political source familiar with the talks told The Daily Star.

“The ministers’ talks with Mikati and Sleiman made progress toward an agreement to revitalize the work of the government,” said the source. “Issues such as state spending, security measures and administrative appointments lie at the forefront.

Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil and Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish held talks with Mikati at the Grand Serail three days ahead of a Cabinet session that is expected to discuss the draft 2012 state budget and a controversial plan put forth by Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi plan to allocate $100 million in a treasury loan to finance projects in the northern city of Tripoli

The Cabinet meeting, originally set to be held at Baabda Palace Wednesday, has been delayed until Thursday due to President Michel Sleiman’s visit to the United Arab Emirates Wednesday.

The political source said more meetings would be held over the next couple of days and “hopefully the agreement will materialize during Thursday’s Cabinet session.”

The source did not wish to elaborate on the nature of the deal, but added: “We need to see the implementation of certain matters before we are confident that the impasse has been broken.”

Ministerial sources said that Labor Minister Salim Jreissati came up with a solution to the crisis whereby a special law made up of several articles will be devised to allow the issuing of Treasury loans until the end of the year.

Mikati had explained to the three ministers the situation in the country and the Cabinet’s lack of productivity in all fields, saying failure to approve the Tripoli loan and legitimize government spending during Thursday’s session might bring everything to a halt, sources close to the participants said.

Ministerial sources said that while the suspension of Cabinet sessions had not been ruled out, Mikati reiterated to the ministers that the government’s resignation was out of the question now because such a matter could lead to a bloodbath in the country. “I have accepted to head a government in order to prevent such a disaster,” he was quoted as saying.

Mikati told the three ministers that when he saw that his resignation would not lead to security chaos and instability, he would be more than happy to step down and return home with a clear conscience, the sources said.

While Khalil and Fneish told Mikati that they approved the Tripoli loan, Bassil, from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, rejected it, arguing that the loan had been illegal and his bloc could not agree to it, the sources said. Bassil said the only solution to the problem was for Sleiman to sign a decree authorizing the Cabinet’s LL8.9 trillion (nearly $6 billion) in extra-budgetary. Sleiman has refused to sign Safadi’s LL8.9 trillion draft law, saying it was illegitimate.

After the meeting at the Grand Serail failed to resolve the spending problem, the three ministers met Sleiman at Baabda Palace in an attempt to persuade him to sign the LL8.9 trillion bill.

Aoun and his allies, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, are seeking to resolve the Mikati government’s spending problem separately from the settlement of the financial issues of former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government, as Sleiman, Mikati and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt want. Aoun has repeatedly accused the three leaders of obstructing and paralyzing the Cabinet’s work, claiming that he has documents that condemn the Siniora government’s spending.

Meanwhile, Mikati reiterated that his government would stay in office to face challenges. He also defended his government’s policy to dissociate Lebanon from the repercussions of the crisis in Syria. Mikati was speaking to reporters after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, north of Beirut, Monday night.

Asked to comment on Aoun’s call for the government’s resignation, Mikati said: “I confirm today that the government will continue to fully shoulder its responsibilities ... because any other alternative is not the correct alternative for the country and its stability.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 05, 2012, on page 3.




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