Over 450 hospital hires violated freeze: Lebanon's MP

The committee will now look into the circumstances surrounding the hires: Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee Head

  
Member of parliaments attend a parliament session as Lebanon's newly elected parliament convenes for the first time to elect a speaker and deputy speaker in Beirut, Lebanon May 23, 2018. Lebanese Parliament/Handout via REUTERS

Member of parliaments attend a parliament session as Lebanon's newly elected parliament convenes for the first time to elect a speaker and deputy speaker in Beirut, Lebanon May 23, 2018. Lebanese Parliament/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT: Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee has found government hospitals hired over 450 people in violation of a public sector hiring freeze that took effect in August 2017, committee head MP Ibrahim Kanaan said Tuesday. Kanaan’s announcement came during a news conference held after the committee had convened to investigate potential transgressions of the freeze by the Health and Energy ministries, one of a number of hearings held by various parliamentary committees Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s session, Health Minister Jamil Jabak provided the committee with documents and graphs showing that a total of 459 people had been hired since the freeze was implemented - most of whom, he said, had been employed without the ministry’s approval.

The committee will now look into the circumstances surrounding the hires, Kanaan said.

Regarding the Energy Ministry, Kanaan said the Central Inspection Bureau and the Civil Service Board had found violations of the hiring freeze were “almost nonexistent.”

The committee has been investigating the employment of about 5,000 people in public institutions since the freeze began, most of which took place in the run-up to the May 2018 parliamentary elections, supposedly as a way to buy votes.

Also Tuesday, the Administration and Justice Committee approved amendments to the law that established the CIB to allow for ministers to be questioned by the bureau.

However, MP Paula Yacoubian told The Daily Star that the investigation procedure was still not as clear as it should be.

The Public Health, Labor and Social Affairs Committee discussed amendments to a law addressing “the oversupply of pharmacists in Lebanon,” MP Fadi Alameh told The Daily Star.

The high number of people who have recently qualified to be pharmacists have meant fewer job opportunities, Alameh said, particularly given Lebanon’s “contracting economy.”

The Syndicate of Pharmacists in Lebanon proposed the amendments, which call for a review of pharmacy schools’ entrance examination and stricter admissions criteria.

Newly appointed Minister for the Displaced Ghassan Atallah attended a session of the Committee for the Affairs of the Displaced to present its members with his “vision” for permanently closing all the ministry’s files.

“It is unacceptable that we still have people displaced in their homeland 30 years after the war,” committee Chair Jean Talouzian was quoted as saying by the state-run National News Agency after the meeting.

During Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War, an estimated 450,000 Lebanese were displaced from their homes.

A large number of the displacements took place in 1983, when Progressive Socialist Party and Lebanese Forces militias in the Chouf fought what would later be known as the Mountain War.

Talouzian said members of the committee were working with LF head Samir Geagea, PSP leader Walid Joumblatt and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to help find a solution to the issue of the displaced.

The committee also discussed the possible expansion of the Mieh Mieh Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Sidon.

However, Talouzian said the issue was not within the purview of the Ministry for the Displaced or the Council of the South.

MP Nazih Najem chaired a session of the Public Works, Transportation, Energy and Water committee that was attended by the agriculture, energy, environment and interior ministers, to discuss the prolonged issue of the pollution of the Litani River.

The Litani has often made headlines as locals, activists, officials and ministers have pushed for solutions to the decades-old issue of heavy pollution caused by neglect and poor management.

Following the meeting, Najem said the committee had found “many infringements on the river,” including from the industry and agriculture sectors, and from hospitals, the NNA reported.

The committee will hold additional sessions to address refugee settlements’ pollution of the river, after the Litani River Authority in February bulldozed 13 tents in an informal settlement in Zahrani in what it said was an effort to curb pollution.

The Education and Culture Committee, headed by Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, resumed deliberation of a law related to nursing training, as well as amendments to a law governing appointments within the Education Ministry, in the presence of Minister Akram Chehayeb.

MP Neemat Frem Tuesday chaired a session of the National Economy, Trade, Industry and Planning Committee, after which he said that weak planning over the past 15 years was the cause of the current financial crisis, according to the NNA. The committee has been given a green light by Speaker Nabih Berri to create a “single economic rescue plan,” the MP said.

“The current situation is very serious,” he said, adding that all of Lebanon’s political leaders were prioritizing the reduction of the deficit to unlock some $11 billion in funds pledged at last year’s CEDRE conference in Paris to support Lebanon’s economy.

At the conference, Lebanon promised to reduce the deficit-to-GDP ratio by at least 1 percentage point per year for five years, a goal that Prime Minister Saad Hariri said last month was still feasible.

Also Tuesday, according to the NNA, subcommittee of the joint parliamentary committees focused on laying out a road map for assessing laws proposed by various political parties related to the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes.

Alameh, who sits on the committee and belongs to the Amal Movement, said the session, attended by representatives from the Public Health Ministry, was the first related to the issue that was more than just informational.

The main point of contention among the proposals will likely be the question of how a medical cannabis industry would be governed, Alameh said.

He added all of the members of the committee were “open” to cannabis cultivation as “something valuable for the Bekaa Valley, which has been neglected by government.”

The subcommittee is set to discuss the law’s individual articles at its next session.

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