BEIRUT: Education Minister Akram Chehayeb Tuesday said his ministry would provide documentation to the Finance and Budget Committee justifying the illegal hiring of 154 people during a public sector hiring freeze.
Chehayeb said a previously reported figure alleging the Education Ministry had hired over 3,000 people following the August 2017 hiring freeze was “inflated,” during a news conference after the committee hearing.
He said 2,173 teachers had been hired after the freeze to meet the ministry’s needs, based on a Cabinet decision that employed those who passed the Civil Service Council exams.
Chehayeb said his ministry would give a full report to the committee with its total number of “administrators, teachers and contractors ... within a month.” The report, he added, would also include the cost of their employment on the state before and after the 2017 freeze.
The freeze was put in place following the adoption of a public-sector salary hike - the first in 20 years - in order to partially offset the increased burden on the state’s finances.
Chehayeb said that of the 154 illegally hired - based on the ministry’s “needs” - 34 were for the Lebanese University, 56 for the ministry’s Vocational and Technical Center and 34 for its Educational Center. He did not account for the remaining 30.
Tuesday’s hearing came as part of a growing investigation by the Finance and Budget Committee into illegal state hiring. The committee last week uncovered that some 15,000 employees were hired in public administrations. It remains unclear how many of these cross over with the roughly 5,000 employees that the committee’s head MP Ibrahim Kanaan previously said were hired after the 2017 freeze.
Kanaan said Tuesday that the committee discussed additional illegal hiring figures, but “up to this point, [the committee] has no final numbers and we are waiting for the information we requested.”
He also said that state spending on wages had increased from 2017 to 2018, adding that “some ministries have over 100 percent increases” in wage costs.
The lawmaker said the committee had invited the Finance Ministry and the Court of Audit to clarify the costs of the public sector hires and compare them with figures provided by the inspecting authorities, emphasizing that any violation, “whether it was 10 or 5,000 people, must stop.”
Regarding the final figures for the illegal employments, Kanaan said, “After the audit, which Cabinet was supposed to have done in 2017, is over, we can determine the final numbers of employments and the needs of administrations.”
The committee Monday requested the Central Inspection Bureau to conduct a count of public employees to ensure public offices have been complying with hiring laws, and another from the Civil Service Council “to check whether the government had bypassed the report of the [Civil Service Council] regarding employment ... and if [it had], then in favor of which municipality or administration,” Kanaan said.
The MP referred in Monday and Tuesday’s news conferences to Article 21 of Law 46, which states that public institutions cannot employ anyone without first obtaining a report from the Civil Service Council.
The report must address the number of employees, contractors and workers already at a given administration, and determine current and future needs and costs. Once the report has been completed, it is submitted to Cabinet, which then decides on whether to approve the prospective hires. - With Timour Azhari