Lebanon News

Committee rejects Ogero head’s justification

MP Ibrahim Kanaan heads the Finance and Budget Committee in Beirut, March 18, 2019. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament, HO)

BEIRUT: Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee and the Civil Service Council Monday rejected the justification provided by the head of state-run telecoms company Ogero for the hiring of 453 employees during a public sector hiring freeze.

The ongoing, statewide freeze began in August 2017.

Last week, the committee verified that Ogero had brought on the 453 employees since the freeze began.

At a follow-up session Monday, the company’s head, Imad Kreidieh, submitted documents that he said would justify the recruitments.

According to MP Ibrahim Kanaan, who heads the committee, the documents Kreidieh provided sought to explain that the illegal hires were not subject to Article 21 of Law 46, which instituted the freeze all public sector hiring and contracting. The law also states that if public institutions must hire anyone, they need to first obtain an audit from the Civil Service Council, and secure Cabinet’s approval.

Kanaan said that the committee members had rejected Kreidieh’s claim, emphasizing that all public sector hires fall under Article 21. The committee, the Central Inspection Bureau and the Civil Service Council will nevertheless continue studying the documents thoroughly, Kanaan added.

“This file [claims that the hiring] is allowed under certain circumstances ... and in [Ogero’s] opinion, it is not subject to [Article 21] ... But the Civil Service Council argued that it is subject to Article 21,” a position the committee agreed with, Kanaan said after the session, which was attended by Kreidieh as well as Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair.

The Finance and Budget Committee last week also verified that the Telecommunications Ministry has hired 55 people during the freeze. Kanaan did not say whether the committee addressed these recruitments during Monday’s session.

The committee has been investigating the hiring of about 5,000 people 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.

Kanaan said Monday that the CIB and the Civil Service Council had submitted the final number of illegal hires to the committee, which will announce them soon along with a final report.

“We will not exclude any ministry or any administration [from hearings],” Kanaan said.

The committee head also seized the news conference as an opportunity to reiterate that the investigation has no political or sectarian bent.

“It is not a battle of parties, and campaigns that support or attack the minister based on his [political] background should not be held,” Kanaan said.

Regarding the people who have already been hired, Kanaan rejected a suggestion by Choucair to redistribute the already hired employees to different departments.

Kanaan said the committee will address hiring at the Interior Ministry Tuesday and the Energy Ministry next week. A source close to Kanaan told The Daily Star that Interior Minister Raya El Hassan would be attending Tuesday’s hearing.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 19, 2019, on page 2.

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