May 10 2012
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Overspending row imperils Cabinet
10 May 2012
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Cabinet plunged deeper into crisis Wednesday with Prime Minister Najib Mikati warning that the continuation of deadlock over the controversial draft law on over-spending would threaten the survival of his government.
The Cabinet postponed during a meeting the discussion of a draft law that would authorize extra-budgetary spending of LL8.9 trillion (nearly $6 billion) to next week, as pollical factions continued to take hard-line stances.
Ministerial sources quoted Mikati as asking why the Cabinet should stay in office if it was unable to fill long-standing administrative vacancies and resolve the overspending impasse.
March 8 ministers maintain that the draft law cannot be approved, and they are demanding that Sleiman use his constitutional prerogatives to sign a decree authorizing the extra-budgetary spending, as was proposed in the initial draft law prepared by Safadi.
March 8 ministers argue that they cannot discuss Safadi’s second proposal as the first has not been withdrawn.
Sources close to Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that Sleiman would deliver a speech on the fourth anniversary of his election, which falls on May 25, responding to recent harsh public criticism of the president.
The sources said that Sleiman would uphold the Constitution and reiterate his call for parties to refrain from divisive rhetoric and to spare Lebanon the repercussions of turmoil elsewhere in the region.
Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement holds Sleiman responsible for the crisis over government spending, after he refused to sign the LL8.9 trillion decree.
During the session, ministers also postponed looking into a proposal to approve an advance payment of LL4.9 trillion to meet public sector salaries for the coming three months, which was prepared by Safadi.
Prior to the Cabinet session, Safadi warned that failing to authorize the LL4.9 trillion would have negative repercussions on the Lebanese Army.
“If the amount is not approved, the basic needs of the army and security forces will be threatened,” Safadi said.
But speaking to Al-Jadeed TV, Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said that there would be no problem in paying army salaries.
Mikati called for a Cabinet session on May 16 at Baabda Palace.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Information Minister Walid Daouk said that parties in the Cabinet are coordinating to resolve the crisis. “Discussions between all groups are ongoing to reach a compromise. We hope that we will reach a solution by Wednesday,” he said.
In other business, the Cabinet tasked the Council of Development and Reconstruction with preparing a study on constructing a tunnel in the coastal Metn town of Jal al-Dib within two weeks.
Residents of Jal al-Dib have held three protests in the area, demanding that a tunnel be constructed to replace the bridge dismantled by the government.
The Cabinet also endorsed a tourism campaign on CNN to promote Lebanon along with an agreement with Eurosport to air spots promoting Lebanon throughout the year.
The Cabinet approved a $5 million loan agreement between Lebanon and the Islamic Bank for Development to fund the construction of three schools and an agreement to fund a project for sewage treatment in the western Bekaa.
During the session, Sleiman ordered an investigation into Wednesday’s killing of a Lebanese elderly woman in Masharih al-Qaa area on the border with Syria. He said that coordination will take place with Syrian authorities to uncover the full details of the incident.
For his part, Mikati said that a number of socio-economic demands in the country were being addressed. He hailed as an “achievement” the raising of the hospitalization fees covered by the National Social Security Fund, which ended a strike by private hospitals. He said the last NSSF fee was determined in 1996.
Separately, MPs attending the weekly meeting of Speaker Nabih Berri quoted him as saying that the Cabinet’s performance was unacceptable.
Berri added that the Cabinet should deal with recent labor unrest and social strife by engaging in dialogue with unions, and prevent the situation from deteriorating further.© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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