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Ghanem cries foul over convening of committee

Western Bekaa-Rashaya MP Robert Ghanem. (Archive Photo/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: A dispute of the legality of a Parliament committee session broke out Wednesday when MP Robert Ghanem, the head of Parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee, said it was illegal for the committee’s rapporteur to chair the meeting.

MP Nawwar Saheli responded, arguing that the session had been held in line with Parliament’s bylaws.

“The committee’s rapporteur, Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Nawwar Saheli, does not have the right to call for a meeting without the consent of the committee’s head,” Ghanem told The Daily Star.

Saheli convened a committee session which passed a draft law to form an association for certified midwives. The session was attended by nine MPs, all from the March 8 coalition.

Ghanem said that Article 27 of Parliament’s bylaws stipulates that the rapporteur has to seek the approval of the committee head to call for a session. If the chairman of the committee is unable to fulfill his or her task, only then the rapporteur can turn to the speaker for consultations on calling for a session, Ghanem added.

“That means the rapporteur only has the right to call on the committee to convene if its chairman can’t carry out his tasks for compelling reasons such as illness or being abroad,” said Ghanem, who had not given permission.

“He obviously had [Speaker Nabih] Berri’s approval, but he didn’t mention in the session’s minutes that Berri has tasked him to call on the committee to convene,” said Ghanem, hours after the committee met in Parliament.

Speaking to reporters after chairing the session, Saheli said that his call for the session is in line with article 27 of Parliament’s bylaws.

“Article 27 of Parliament’s bylaws is clear and says: ‘Every committee convenes on the call of its chair and the rapporteur makes the call if the chair is unable to fulfill his tasks,” he said, adding that the rapporteur calls for the session when tasked by the committee chair or speaker.

Saheli said that Article 27 does not mention illness or traveling in specific as the only circumstances under which the rapporteur could call a session or ask the speaker for permission to do so.

Legal expert Hasan Rifai told The Daily star that the speaker can’t decide on behalf of the committee’s head in the absence of a valid reason.

Meanwhile, MP Marwan Hamadeh, who is also a member of the committee, told a local radio station that Saheli’s actions violated the principle of coexistence among the Lebanese.

Hamadeh also lashed out at Berri, accusing him of undermining “respect for coexistence” in Lebanon by calling for the meeting of the Administration and Justice Parliamentary Committee.

Following October’s assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the March 14 coalition called on for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister’s Najib Mikati’s Cabinet and decided to boycott all parliamentary sessions attended by members of Cabinet.

“He [Ghanem] can chair the meetings of his parliamentary committee without inviting members of the Cabinet to attend,” Saheli said. “He can say we want to study draft laws without inviting members of the Cabinet and this is his right.”

Saheli said he followed Parliament’s bylaws Wednesday in line with instructions by Berri who opposes that Parliament stops functioning.

Addressing MPs attending his weekly meeting with lawmakers, Berri said Wednesday that parliamentary committees should continue their work.

“The authorization people gave to an MP does not allow that he deliberately misses sessions without a legitimate excuse, thus, the MP should fulfill his duties,” he was quoted by MPs as saying.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 15, 2012, on page 3.

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