BEIRUT: The Cabinet looks set to pass a draft law to legalize extra-budgetary spending during its session Thursday, removing a major obstacle that has hindered the government’s work for several months, said sources close to Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Speaking to The Daily Star, the sources voiced confidence that the ministers would approve a draft law to allow the issuing of treasury loans until the end of the year following an agreement by parties in Cabinet.
The sources said that ministers from Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party would endorse the draft law in Parliament, giving it the necessary votes to pass in case it is opposed by March 14 MPs.
Speaking to The Daily Star after meeting Mikati, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from the PSP, confirmed that an agreement on spending had been reached.
The agreement is part of a compromise to revitalize the work of the Cabinet reached by March 8 ministers, Mikati and Sleiman during separate talks Monday. Besides state spending, the compromise will see the Cabinet take measures to maintain security and make long-awaited administrative appointments, according to a political source familiar with the talks.
A series of security incidents in the north and in Beirut have shaken the country in recent weeks. Fourteen were killed over the weekend in armed clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the northern city of Tripoli.
Sources from the parliamentary majority said that the Cabinet needs to make clear progress on backlogged issues before the National Dialogue session called for by President Michel Sleiman convenes next week, citing Speaker Nabih Berri’s frustration over lack of progress in the Cabinet, which he had fully supported earlier.
The same sources, however, did not rule out the possibility that the agreement might not materialize by Thursday, adding that in this case, the Cabinet would fall into a “coma.”
But Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun voiced optimism Tuesday that the agreement would take place.
“We launched an initiative ... which is being worked out right now and I think it will lead to a [positive] result,” Aoun said after the weekly meeting of his Change and Reform Parliamentary bloc at his residence in Rabieh.
“We are now holding discussions to reach a solution. We hope there will be a happy ending.”
Aoun said that Cabinet must show that it is capable. “If it was unable to maintain security and implement development projects, then there would be no need for it.”
But contrary to the agreement, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi said after a brief meeting with Mikati at the Grand Serail that legalizing spending above the budget ceiling of 2005 should take place through Parliament’s approval of a LL 3.5 trillion advance payment for the Finance Ministry.
Safadi’s proposal was rejected in a previous Cabinet session by ministers from the Free Patriotic Movement, Amal, Hezbollah, Syrian Social Nationalist Party and Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami, who argued then that the president should instead sign a draft law to legalize L.L. 8.9 trillion of spending in 2011 and 2012 exceeding the budget ceiling of 2005. But Sleiman refuses to sign the draft law, arguing that it was unconstitutional.
In February, PSP MPs and lawmakers from the March 14 coalition objected to the draft law when it was proposed in Parliament, prompting Berri to adjourn the session.
Sources close to Mikati told The Daily Star that Safadi has the right to put forward any proposals he finds appropriate to legalize spending during Thursday’s Cabinet session. However, the sources continued, the Cabinet will have the final say.
A sign of the compromise appeared Tuesday, as progress was made in appointments, with Sleiman signing a decree appointing five judges to the Higher Judicial Council. The tenure of the current members ended Tuesday.
Mikati had signed the decree Monday, and sources at the prime minister’s office said that this step paves the way for appointing the head of the HJC.
Ministers have failed to agree on a candidate to lead the council, and the post has been vacant for over a year following the retirement of Judge Ghaleb Ghanem.
The question of a successor has put Sleiman and Aoun at loggerheads as each has their own favorite.
The appointed judges are Jospeh Samaha, Marie Denise al-Meouchi, Rida Raad, Oussama al-Lahham, and Mirna Bayda. According to the decree, Bayda will hold the position of the council’s secretary.
Last month, Lebanon’s Appeals Courts elected Judges Antoine Daher and Suhair Harakeh to the council.
In addition to the head of the council, General Prosecutor Said Mirza and the head of the Judicial Inspection Department Judge Akram Baasiri are permanent members on the Higher Judicial Council. Mirza will retire on July 30, and the Cabinet has to appoint a successor.