Lebanon News

Spending measures cause ruckus at Parliament

Kanaan and Gemayel speak after a Parliament session in Beirut, Sept. 24, 2019. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament, HO)

BEIRUT: Spending measures were the highlight of a Parliament session Tuesday amid squabbles between lawmakers and the premier over his support for local projects.

A legislative session with 19 items on its agenda - many of which were approved - began shortly before noon. A statement from the Interior Ministry was read out at the start of the session, declaring Hasan Ezzeddine as an MP for Tyre after winning a by-election by default. The Tyre seat was left vacant after Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi resigned in July following allegations that he had shot at a police station.

The first item on the agenda, a draft law to allocate extra funds outside the 2019 state budget in order to continue the implementation of projects - mainly in Mount Lebanon - was opposed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

He faced resistance from a number of lawmakers, mainly from the Free Patriotic Movement’s Strong Lebanon bloc and the Kataeb Party.

Hariri told Parliament that the government had no money to implement the projects, requesting that the draft law be returned to Cabinet.

MP Ibrahim Kanaan of the FPM opposed Hariri, saying the projects were necessary and that it would cost more to cancel them than to implement them.

As lawmakers continued with other agenda items, Hariri’s support of another bill, which called for the acceptance of a loan to support a project to improve water supply for the Dinnieh district, aroused the fury of Strong Lebanon bloc lawmakers.

Hariri defended the bill, saying the loan carried just 1 percent interest, while the project he opposed had a high interest rate.

A short verbal altercation took place before Hariri angrily left the session. He was followed by Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and MP Alain Aoun, who convinced the premier to return.

Following the session, Defense Minister and Metn MP Elias Bou Saab, also a member of the FPM, said only a few of these projects - passed in 2014 - remained incomplete. “There are solutions we can discuss and the funding could have been postponed. ... We insist on [the endorsement of] projects for all of Lebanon,” Bou Saab said at a news conference. “It is not plausible that there is money for one project and none for another.”

Lawmakers voted down designating a number of bills on the agenda as urgent, including a draft law submitted by Strong Lebanon bloc MPs, including the bloc leader, Foreign Minister and Batroun MP Gebran Bassil, calling for the elimination of the last paragraph of Article 80 from the 2019 budget.

The article preserves the right to work for those who applied for state positions and passed the Civil Service Board exams. Their employment is opposed by the bloc and President Michel Aoun because it would create sectarian imbalances. Aoun held off on signing the budget for about a week due to this paragraph. The draft law was sent back to committees.

Another draft law, submitted by Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and calling for setting criteria for first-grade state positions, was referred to the Administration and Justice Committee, which the lawmaker heads.

As the MPs convened in Nijmeh Square, a few dozen of protesters gathered nearby in Riad al-Solh Square. Some demonstrators expressed their opposition to a bill that suspends the new rent law until it can be amended. It was voted down at the session.

Others opposed the Strong Lebanon bloc draft law that would deny their assuming positions in the state bureaucracy.

A law to reallocate funds in the Social Affairs Ministry was added to the agenda and approved. It takes LL35 billion ($23 million) from the budget for the Public Corporation for Housing and reallocates it to support social organizations.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 25, 2019, on page 2.

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