BEIRUT - The Cabinet Thursday approved allocations worth LL70 billion ($46.5 million) to cover the expenses of next year’s parliamentary elections, sending the strongest signal yet about its determination to hold the polls on time.
However, some ministers complained that the earmarked money made Lebanon’s elections, the first to be held in nine years, the “most expensive” in the world.
“This is the most expensive election in the history of the world,” Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh said after the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail. Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil echoed a similar view, saying: “It is possible that these elections will be the most expensive in the world.”
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk defended the appropriations, saying: “All the figures are justified.”
“The allocations for the upcoming parliamentary elections have been completely approved,” Machnouk said after the meeting. He also reiterated that parliamentary elections, planned in May 2018, would be held on time, dispelling fears of a postponement of the polls or a new extension of the legislative body’s term which has been extended three times since the last polls in 2009.
The allocations, demanded by the Interior Ministry, would be used to pay the salaries of about 9,000 heads of polling stations in Beirut and towns and villages throughout the country, in addition to the cost of logistical equipment.
Last week, the Cabinet approved the salaries of an 11-member committee formed to supervise the elections. The Cabinet’s formation of the electoral supervisory committee last month was seen as a significant step toward holding the elections.
President Michel Aoun reassured the Lebanese that parliamentary elections would be held on time. “Efforts made to draft a new electoral law will not go in vain. Rest assured, parliamentary elections will take place. It is a popular and government will and no one has the ability today to stop this path [elections],” Aoun said during a meeting with visitors at Baabda Palace.During its meeting that lasted two hours to ponder 52 items on the agenda, the Cabinet also approved the formation of the socio-economic council along with the 71 members proposed to the Cabinet and passed a law protecting heritage sites, Information Minister Melhem Riachi told reporters.
Hariri praised the revival of the socio-economic council. “The stage is economic and we all carry socio-economic concerns. The council is a place for reflection and dialogue among all segments of society and the political parties should listen to its views,” Hariri said. “There is an activation for the role of woman and 12 ladies were appointed, that is 17 percent of the socio-economic council. The oldest member will call for the election of the bureau, which in turn will elect a president and a vice-president and the government will appoint a director-general. We hope that this will be the beginning of a serious and productive cooperation between the working force and the government.”
The socio-economic council is being brought back into the limelight after it was first formed in 2000 in line with a stipulation in the 1989 Taif Accord to work on social and economic projects. It has been dormant for over 15 years after new appointees were not named when the council’s term ended in 2002. Charles Arbid is tipped to replace Roger Nasnas as council president.
Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury praised the passing of the law protecting heritage sites, saying that heritage buildings would no longer be demolished to make way for skyscrapers. “The law protecting archeological and heritage buildings ... is a historic step to protect heritage and archeology in Lebanon,” Khoury said after the meeting. “The importance of this law is that it found ways to compensate the owners of heritage buildings so they can benefit from their properties and maintain them.”
He said he would ask Speaker Nabih Berri to help in endorsing this law as soon as possible. “I also want to tell all those interested in heritage in Lebanon that from now on no heritage buildings will be removed to be replaced by skyscrapers, but these buildings will be preserved in the appropriate way,” Khoury said.
Meanwhile, Hariri arrived in Rome Thursday night on an official visit during which he will meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican.
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