Lebanon News

MPs make push for more oversight

BEIRUT: Lawmakers studied legislation related to state oversight Tuesday at parliamentary committee meetings, with a focus on strengthening the Central Inspection Bureau and accounting for hiring in the bloated public sector. Lebanon has several institutions tasked with overseeing everything from public sector tenders to hiring and corruption, including the CIB and the Court of Audit but they are critically understaffed and governed by old laws.

Kataeb MP Elias Hankash, a member of the National Economy, Trade, Industry and Planning Committee, told The Daily Star that the CIB currently only has 70 inspectors to oversee “more than 300,000 public sector employees,” compared to “in the late 1950s when they had 200 inspectors for 11,000 state employees.”

“It’s ridiculous,” he said, speaking after a session of the committee, attended by CIB head George Attieh, caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Fatima Oueidat, the president of the Civil Service Council, which in essence acts as the state’s human resources department.

Hankash said that the aim of the meeting had been to map public sector employment to see how it could be restructured to be more efficient.

According to Hankash, the unexpectedly high cost of the public sector wage hike endorsed by Parliament last year perfectly illustrated the need for detailed information on public sector employment.

Because that information was not available, the bill ended up costing LL1,900 billion ($1.2 billion) instead of the presumed LL800 billion.

The Daily Star could not independently verify those numbers.

Hankash said the committee was also looking to create a system with the CIB whereby citizens could rate the performance of public sector employees with whom they come into contact.

The CIB was also center stage at a meeting of the Administration and Justice Committee, where Attieh presented the work of the agency and discussed with lawmakers potential amendments to the laws governing the institution, committee rapporteur MP Nawwaf Musawi told The Daily Star.

“The amendments have the intention of giving [the CIB] the ability to enter any public institution, including municipalities especially the big ones. In line with this, we asked, ‘why can’t the [CIB’s] engineering division take a look at the public works undertaken by the Council for Development and Reconstruction?’”

Musawi corroborated Hankash’s assertion that only 70 inspectors worked at the agency, and said the committee had therefore proposed a budget increase for the CIB. He said it was clear that any increase to the CIB’s budget would be a boon rather than a drain to state coffers, because it would help the fight corruption.

The Public Health, Labor and Social Affairs Committee meanwhile heard National Social Security Fund director Mohammad Karaki to get a better idea of the work of the NSSF, particularly regarding its work on health care, committee chair MP Assem Araji told The Daily Star.

“Some things were positive, some were not, but he assured us that he was working hard to maintain stability” in order to continue being able to provide services to Lebanese, Araji said.

The NSSF is the largest funder of health care coverage in Lebanon covering 80-95 percent of inpatient and outpatient health care, as well as providing pensions and family services like maternity care.

Karaki told The Daily Star that the fund faced two main obstacles.

Firstly, delays in hiring new employees had left the agency with only 49 percent of the staff it needs to function properly just 1,053 employees out of the 2,157 needed, Karaki said.

“Every year, 70-80 of our employees go into retirement, and because it takes years for new hires to get through the Civil Service Council and Cabinet, our work is badly impacted,” he said.

This means many of the 1.5 million Lebanese citizens benefiting from the NSSF often have to wait long periods for services.

Secondly, Karaki said that by the end of 2017, the Lebanese government owed the NSSF LL2,735 billion, which meant that the NSSF had to go into debt to continue its services. “If they pay us, we’ll be fine, because the debt is around the same amount [as what we’re owed by the government],” he said, adding he did not know why the sum had not been paid.

Separately, the Public Works, Transportation, Energy and Water Committee discussed an amendment to the building code that would set new building regulations for decorative roof tiling, mostly found in mountain villages across Lebanon. Committee chair MP Nazih Najem confirmed that the committee’s session had been solely devoted to studying that law, adding that “it needs time.”

The Education and Culture Committee meanwhile met to follow up on “several issues, including improving our education strategy and dealing with the issue of contract teachers,” committee rapporteur MP Assaad Dergham told The Daily Star.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 24, 2018, on page 2.

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