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Appointments saga dogs embattled Cabinet

The Cabinet faces several other major hurdles, among them the pay increase and the issue of Lebanon’s Syrian refugees.

BEIRUT: Reaching agreement on administrative agreements continues to be among the major challenges Cabinet faces in its struggle to lift Lebanon out of the political crisis borne of the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.

Since last month’s assassination, the March 14 coalition has been calling for Cabinet to resign. It is boycotting the National Dialogue and all parliamentary sessions attended by members of the Cabinet.

Selecting names to fill vacant administrative posts has long dogged the Cabinet, and there is still no accord on who will become the director-general and head of the board of Tele Liban. Appointments at the station have been held up because of complaints by prominent Greek Melkite Catholics that positions traditionally held by their sect are being given to other groups.

According to ministerial sources, Information Minister Walid Daouk recently discussed the Tele Liban appointments with President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun in separate recent meetings, and is in talks with all relevant parties.

The sources said that Daouk informed Aoun that he would have difficulty appointing a Maronite to Tele Liban’s top spot, and instead asked the Free Patriotic Movement leader to nominate a Maronite for the board.

Aoun responded by proposing his own Greek Melkite Catholic candidate for director-general and board head, Pierre Azar. Daouk currently has four candidates for the post. The other three are: Talal Maqdissi, who is close to Sleiman; George Kallas, who is backed by Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorius III Lanham; and Camille Mnessa, who Daouk supports.

The sources said that Tele Liban appointments might be postponed yet again if Aoun insists on Azar and Daouk, Mikati and Sleiman oppose this choice.

A list of names for the Customs Department has been finalized, sources said, adding that they will be appointed soon.

Mussa Hazim will be named the head of the Customs Department board of directors; Jean Fares will be named director-general. Fares, who hails from Jezzine, is close to Aoun.

Shafiq Merie, who is now the acting director-general, will be chosen for the Higher Customs Council.

A deal has been made about the names of some governors; contacts are ongoing about the rest.

The Cabinet faces several other major hurdles, among them the pay increase it approved for public employees and teachers, and the issue of Lebanon’s Syrian refugees.

So far, the Cabinet’s policy toward the salary scale is postponement: Mikati has announced that he will not refer it to Parliament before securing financing. This position has hardened, sources said, in light of comments by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh at the last Cabinet session that implementing the wage increase would damage the economy and the country’s monetary system.

The sources said there are prominent parties represented in the Cabinet who can convince the Union Coordination Committee to refrain from escalating protests about the raise until the Cabinet can find a source of funding that will not jeopardizethe country’s economy.

As for the Syrian refugees, of whom there are more than 118,000 registered in Lebanon, the sources said the government is discussing the matter with donor states and the Higher Relief Committee, and is working on a plan to accommodate and aid more than 200,000 refugees.

The sources said preliminary figures suggest Lebanon needs more than $400 million to pay for these relief efforts.

The Cabinet is also facing security problems given the weekend’s fighting in Sidon. The sources said that when Sheikh Ahmad Assir called Mikati Saturday, the prime minister informed the controversial preacher that a decision to preserve stability and security nationwide has been made and will be implemented.

The sources said that Mikati’s scheduled visit to Paris Monday will shock the opposition, because they expect the French to express clear support for his Cabinet. Mikati is set to meet with French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, among other officials.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 14, 2012, on page 3.

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