BEIRUT: The Cabinet convened Wednesday and agreed to refer the divisive issue of the formation of an elections supervisory committee to the Higher Consultation Committee.
The ministers, who met at Baabada Palace under President Michel Sleiman, also agreed to study amendments to the Value Added Tax and Sleiman called for an exceptional Cabinet session on Feb. 19 to discuss the controversial issue of the new wage scale.
During the cabinet session, the ministers agreed to refer the issue of the formation of a committee to supervise the June 9 elections to the Higher Consultation Committee which will issue its opinion on the deadline for the creation of the election commission.
The Consultation Committee, to be headed by Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi, is an independent body that offers legal opinion to all the ministries and the Cabinet.
Sleiman was expected to face off with March 8 ministers over the creation of the supervisory committee, as mandated by the 1960 electoral law currently in place.
While Sleiman insists on creating the committee within the constitutional deadline, some ministers fear its formation would lead to holding the elections under the current 1960 law.
In comments to a local newspaper published Wednesday, Speaker Nabih Berri warned that forming the elections supervisory committee at this stage would signal a return to the 1960s law, which divides the country into 13 electoral districts under a winner-takes-all system.
The session, which comes a day after divisions surfaced between Prime Minister Najib Mikati and MP Michel Aoun over the subject of telecoms data, did not include talks on the controversial matter.
“We already decided on this matter last week and we said that the decision on the matter is for Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Therefore, there was no need to discuss it again,” Information Minister Walid Daouq told reporters after the Cabinet session.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati has signed a request to extend police access to the country’s telecoms data.
However, in comments published in a local daily Tuesday, Mikati said the telecoms minister, a member in the Free Patriotic Movement, should not withhold the data, in a warning that provoked a stern response from Aoun.
Aoun said Minister Nicolas Sehanoui had the prerogatives concerning telecoms data, a claim that the prime minister swiftly denied in a statement from his office.
Although Cabinet did not discuss the thorny issue, Sehnaoui told reporters ahead of the meeting that he had not received any “exceptional” request for providing security agencies with telecoms data.
Ministerial sources said Sehnaoui’s statement aimed at defusing the row between Mikati and the FPM leader.
The government also decided to task the Justice Ministry’s director-general and Lebanon’s ambassador to Paris to follow up the case of leftist militant George Abdallah who has been in French jails for almost three decades.
Daouk said the Cabinet also agreed to form a ministerial committee to study amendments to the Value Added Tax.
However, he stressed that the amendments under study would not include a hike in the tax.
Sleiman also called during the meeting for an exceptional Cabinet session on Feb. 19 to discuss the controversial issue of the new wage scale for public sector workers, Daouq said.