Hezbollah boycott didn’t stop Lebanon’s Cabinet from approving public sector wages

Published August 27th, 2015 - 04:25 GMT

Lebanon's Cabinet approved the payment of public sector wages and a number of other bills in its session Thursday, despite a boycott by Hezbollah and its main Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige announced.

In addition to the wages payments, the session approved five other decisions: tasking the ministers of transportation and justice to hire a legal firm to defend Lebanon against a lawsuit by a foreign air line, tasking Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk to contact municipalities over their potential role in a solution to the garbage crisis, approving a number of donations to state institutions, issuing Eurobonds and transferring owed funds to municipalities.

Five ministers boycotted the session from Hezbollah and FPM chief Michel Aoun's Change and Reform Bloc: Culture Minister Rony Areiji, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian, Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hasan and State Minister Mohammad Fneich.

The FPM's decision comes in light of the lack of consensus in the Cabinet, ministerial sources said, adding that Hezbollah decided to boycott in solidarity.

ِAfter the session, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, whose ministers attended the session despite the boycott by his allies, asked Prime Minister Tammam Salam in a phone call to "not be hasty in calling for new sessions."

According to a statement by Berri's media office, the request aimed at "giving way to the ongoing discussions to guarantee the attendance of all sides."

Several of the items approved by Cabinet Thursday were crucial, especially the approval of funds for civil servants' salaries and food supplies to the army.

Another major decision was asking Machnouk to survey municipalities about their willingness to participate in the management of their own waste in the future, as the government has yet to reach a solution to the ongoing garbage crisis.

According to the final statement read by Joreige, Salam said the idea was supported by many civil society groups, but warned that "previous experiences with municipalities were not very encouraging."

A recent social movement against the government's handling of the garbage crisis, named "You Stink," has called for decentralizing waste management and allowing municipalities to carry out their share of the process, as stated by Lebanese law.

Activists believe that such a move would save municipalities large amounts of money which is currently paid to companies hired by the central government. Sukleen and Sukomi, which manages Beirut and Mount Lebanon's waste, is paid around $200 million a year.

The Cabinet had rejected the results of a recent call for waste management tenders in an extraordinary session Tuesday over the high prices demanded by the corporate groups who submitted the offers.

The decision to give municipalities their share of tax revenues, especially from revenues accrued by the Telecoms Ministry, was also a long awaited by the Cabinet.

The statement did not specify the amount to be transferred, but Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb announced in February that the owed payments to municipalities accumulated since 2009 were LL6 billion ($3.9 million).

The Cabinet's productive session is thought to be a result of an initiative by Berri, who proposed a plan

to present the 70 decrees which the Cabinet recently passed without the signature of FPM and Hezbollah to the two parties' ministers.

A source close to Berri told The Daily Star Wednesday the deal stipulated that the signatures of all of the government’s 24 ministers would be necessary to approve decrees which under normal circumstances would require a president’s signature to pass.

As for decrees that typically require signatures from a simple majority or two-thirds of ministers, they would pass even if the six ministers of the FPM and their allies refused to sign them.

The decrees were not to be published in the Official Gazette Thursday in order to give the deal a chance.

Ministers affiliated with Hezbollah, the FPM and the Tashnag Party withdrew from a special Cabinet session Tuesday after expressing opposition to the approval of decrees that did not bear their signatures.

They argued that the move breached laws and violated the agreement reached among Cabinet members and the prime minister about how to exercise executive powers in the absence of a president.

FPM leader Michel Aoun decided Wednesday to postpone a news conference in which he was expected to announce escalatory measures against the government, including a resumption of street protests. The news conference was rescheduled for Friday.

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