BEIRUT: Lebanon's Cabinet agreed Wednesday to extend Middle East Airlines' exclusive right to be the country's sole commercial airline for another 12 years.
The Cabinet also postponed discussion of the long-awaited draft law concerning salary increases for civil servants to Thursday's session.
Lebanon granted MEA the exclusive right in 1969 in a bid to boost the company after an Israeli attack destroyed most of its fleet. The deal, originally set for 20 years, has since been extended on several occasions. The current extension expires in mid-September.
During the Cabinet session, which convened at the presidential palace in Baabda, north of Beirut, President Michel Sleiman said the 2013 draft state budget has been referred to Cabinet and will soon be discussed.
He also highlighted the importance of his visit to Tehran last week, where he participated in the Non-Aligned Movement summit and met with several international officials.
Sleiman noted that the visit to the Iranian capital was a chance to affirm Lebanon’s neutral policy regarding regional events, particularly the crisis in Syria.
Nevertheless, he added that the issue of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon is a humanitarian one and will be followed up.
As for Pope Benedict’s three-day trip to Lebanon starting Sept. 14, Sleiman asked ministers to coordinate with the relevant authorities to ensure that the visit is a success.
As for the draft law to raise the salaries of the public sector proposed by Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, it requires $350 million to cover the salary increase granted to government employees this year.
Nearly 200,000 civil servants, Army and security personnel as well as retired government employees are entitled to the salary increase.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati has promised public sector workers that the salary hikes would be approved during Wednesday's Cabinet session. Private sector employees have already received a salary hike as of February this year.
The Union Coordination Committee, which groups public school teachers and public sector employees, has warned that if the Cabinet fails to approve the proposal Wednesday, it will begin an open-ended strike Thursday.
In remarks to a local daily Wednesday, Safadi said the government was looking into ways to pay employees their raise in installments, but that the union has rejected such a proposal.
Safadi told As-Safir that his suggestion stipulates that a third of the scale would be paid in 2012 and two thirds in 2013 and 2014, as government is incapable of paying the whole amount in one go.
Ministers are expected to discuss accepting a gift of $700,000 from the Norwegian government and another gift of 672 tents and equipment donated by the Shelter Box Trust association to help thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the violence in their country for Lebanon.
The government has appealed to the international community to aid the refugees, whose number has jumped from 35,000 to 61,000 since early August, according to a recent report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Prior to the Cabinet session, President Michel Sleiman met with Mikati privately.