BEIRUT: Energy Minister Gebran Bassil accused the government Wednesday of failing to do enough with regard to the public sector wage scale as civil servants rallied outside his headquarters as part of their open-ended strike to push for Parliament approval of the pay raise.
“The main problem is not the salary scale, but the slackening in state measures to fund the scale,” he told a news conference following a meeting with a delegation from the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), which groups civil servants and public school teachers.
Bassil also criticized the government for protecting “corrupt groups,” which he said included real-estate giant Solidere and Sukleen, which handles waste disposal in the country.
“No one can stop these companies from squandering [money],” Bassil claimed.
Bassil also blasted Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government for shelving one of his plans to build a gas pipeline along the Lebanese coast to fuel power plants.
The minister has argued that the country can significantly reduce the electricity sector deficit through converting fuel oil power plants to relying on natural gas.
“[Reducing the electricity sector deficit] can alone fund the wage scale,” he said.
Civil servants and public school teachers, who launched their open-ended strike on Feb. 19, rallied outside the Energy Ministry in Beirut, vowing not to turn away until their demands are met.
“The battle of the public sector will not be deterred one iota by the [money mongers],” UCC head Hanna Gharib told those gathered outside the government building.
The UCC insists that the government refer a draft wage scale to Parliament for approval while Mikati argues more time is needed to find sources of funding for the pay hike.
Gharib, who has been vocal over the union’s demands, stepped up his attack against Mikati’s government, saying “[ministers] refuse to finance the salary scale from [revenues collected] from [coastal properties] or from corruption [money].”
“Coastal property belongs to you, citizens,” he told the crowd. “Reclaim this property.”
He also called for a “comprehensive strike” to coincide with Teachers’ Day to be observed Friday.
“On the eve of Teachers’ Day, tomorrow [Thursday] ... we call on all the parliamentary blocs as well as all the political and student forces, including vocational, and educational offices to come to UNESCO at 3:30 p.m.,” he said.
“Teachers’ Day is a day of joy and triumph over this cause,” he added.
Many private school teachers, who took part when the strike launched, suspended their strike Monday in line with the decision of the Private Teachers Association.
However, public schools and many government services have upheld the UCC call for the open-ended strike until their demands are met.
In Tripoli, north Lebanon, a UCC-led sit-in was also staged outside the city’s Serail as part of the union strike.