Lebanon News

Parliament passes law to lift banking secrecy for one year

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a general session at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Dec. 21, 2020. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament Monday passed a law that effectively lifts banking secrecy from public accounts for a year in a bid to facilitate the controversial forensic audit of the Central Bank and other state institutions, a prerequisite for crucial international financial assistance.

Lawmakers had convened for an end-of-year general session with a long agenda of 68-items to discuss. Chief of them was the banking secrecy law which was previously cited as an impediment by BDL Gov. Riad Salameh, for the success of a forensic audit carried out by a New York-based consultancy that fell apart last month.

The new law stipulates that banking secrecy will be lifted from all public accounts to facilitate the forensic audit for a period of 12 months. Parliament had weeks ago passed a "decision" to enact the forensic audit, which was not a legally binding document.

For a new contract to be signed with an auditing firm, Lebanon first needs a new government. The Cabinet formation process however is deadlocked.

Gathered at the UNESCO Palace, MPs also passed a law that criminalizes sexual harassment, including at the workplace. The landmark law was welcomed by United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis as a "welcome step" but noted that implementation is key.

However experts noted some of the shortcomings of the law.

Karim Nammour, a lawyer and researcher with NGO Legal Agenda told AFP that the law only allows victims to utilize the criminal justice system and not civil ones, which means their cases will be public. This in turn could discourage victims from filing harassment complaints, Nammour warned.

He also noted that the law puts the burden of proving the crime on the victim, rather than requiring the perpetrator prove his or her innocence.

The law stipulates that perpetrators can face up to two years of imprisonment and fined 20 times the minimum wage, which is at LL675,000.

A draft law proposed by the Free Patriotic Movement to return all funds transferred after Oct. 17, 2019, which is a prime demand of protesters across the country, was transferred to the Joint Committee to be studied and be returned to Parliament in 15 days.

Commenting on the matter, FPM head MP Gebran Bassil said that if these funds return, a huge amount of Lebanese depositors’ money will be back.

Parliament also passed a law that amended the domestic violence law, broadening its scope, as Hezbollah MP Ibrahim Moussawi voiced his party's opposition to the law, asking it be referred back to the committees since some provisions are prone to being appealed by religious leaders. In Lebanon, personal status laws are governed by religious institutions.

Leila Awada, a lawyer with women's rights group KAFA told AFP that the law now "penalizes economic and psychological violence."

However the law was still short on penalizing marital rape, a cause activists and rights groups have been vocally advocating for years.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP that it was a "glaring omission" by Parliament.

"Marriage to the victim should not exempt a sexual offender from punishment," she told AFP.

UN Women Lebanon praised the move for "endorsing important protection-related measures that strengthen the legal framework to end violence against women in Lebanon."

As the contract of Electricite de Zahle with the Lebanese government was coming to an end, Parliament passed a law to renew the concession agreement between the state and electricity distribution company for two years.

According to local media, MP Jamil al-Sayyed proposed during the session that Parliament answers people’s demands and shorten its mandate period to June of next year, as well as swiftly discussing a new electoral law.

The controversial General Amnesty law will once again be discussed during the session as well as another law that calls for reducing over-crowdedness in prison cells amid the pandemic.





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