The first plenary session of the House of Representatives was elected for legislative elections on May 15. The session opened on Tuesday at 11 am in the Clubs Square in downtown Beirut, and was characterized by bitter exchanges between MPs from various parties, which did not prevent the MPs from adopting a law arranging banking secrecy, allowing them to lift this secrecy, which is in force. In Lebanon since 1956, in more cases than those currently provided, ministers and presidents have been elected ex officio.
On the sidelines of this parliamentary session, relatives of the victims of the August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut Port organized a sit-in near the red circle to oppose the election of the seven deputies, accusing the Supreme Court of politicizing it.
Members of Parliament also adopted several agenda texts consisting of 40 points, such as approving a loan from the World Bank to import wheat, in Lebanon in a state of complete economic collapse since 2019. There are other economic and social issues. On the agenda, which will continue to be studied after the resumption of the parliamentary session at 6:15 pm.
Therefore, during the morning session, the deputies considered the copy of the banking secrecy amendment bill, which they adopted after making some amendments to it. “The approach we have chosen is to maintain banking secrecy as a principle, but to expand the list of possible legal exceptions,” then explained MP Ibrahim Kanaan (Free Patriotic Movement, Ownist), the head of this committee. Speaking to local MTV, Kanaan said the adoption of the facilities is “a step forward for reforms, which the international community should evaluate positively.” This provision is already part of the laws that demanded the release of financial aid earmarked for Lebanon in crisis. He again called on the Council of Ministers, which should be formed, to work on a project to restructure the banking sector “in order to complete what we have done” and not be satisfied with “presenting laws in Parliament.”
According to our correspondent, Huda Chedid, the session was attended by a number of diplomats, including the US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea. These diplomats regularly call on the authorities to take economic recovery measures, in particular to meet the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, with which Lebanon signed a preliminary agreement providing for financial assistance.
“Sit and shut up”
Despite the presence of diplomats, the session was held in a tense atmosphere, against the backdrop of bitter dialogues between the deputies. Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri, told MP Halim Kaakour, of the popular protest, when the latter asked to speak during the vote: “Sit down and be quiet.” “What is this paternalistic way of doing things?” indignant at the elect. Then, Representative Farid Haykal Al-Khazen demanded that the word “patriarchal” be deleted from the meeting’s minutes and win his case. The Patriarchate does not refer to the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, who, in a sarcastic tone, fired Deputy Paula Yacoubian, also out of protest, addressing Mr. El-Khazen, “This means renunciation.”
Tensions escalated afterwards, with a loud exchange reported, notably between Representative Cynthia Zarazir (protest) and Qabalan Qabalan (Shiite Amal Movement), whom she described as “deputy cockroaches”, in an Arabic pun on the MP’s nickname “Sarasir” in the plural “Cockroaches”. “Some of the deputies are there to make trouble,” the speaker said at the time.
Supreme Court of Justice
At the beginning of the session, Parliament automatically elects the deputies who will sit in the High Court of Justice. They are: Jamil El-Sayed, Abdel-Karim Kabara, Faisal Al-Sayegh, Hagop Pakradounian, George Atallah, Imad El-Hout and Tony Franji. Qabalan Qabalan and Salem Aoun were elected as alternate members.
A number of officials, including the Shiite Amal Movement – Hezbollah, had called for the activation of the High Court of Justice to try those responsible for the investigation into the deadly bombings in the port of Beirut. A proposal considered an attempt to remove these figures from the work of Judge Tariq Bitar, who is in charge of the case. In addition to the seven parliamentarians, the Supreme Court of Justice is made up of eight of the highest justices chosen in hierarchical order or, on an equal footing, in order of seniority. It is headed by the largest judge. The provisions of this body shall benefit from a majority of ten votes out of fifteen. So far, the Supreme Court of Justice has not yet exercised its functions, since since its establishment in the 1920s, no president or minister has been prosecuted while exercising his office.
A relative of the victims denounced reading a statement criticizing the leaders’ policies after the sit-in, “The election of members of the Supreme Court of Justice is a heresy and a diabolical game on their part to evade investigation.” in. “It will not pass,” she warned, denouncing a “political, fictional and misleading” case. She asked, “How can a criminal judge try himself? How can a judge try himself?”
“This Supreme Court is futile, ineffective and useless, it is a graveyard of accountability,” Kataeb leader MP Sami Gemayel criticized Mr. Berry. The Speaker replied: “You can change the constitution.” And he replied, “That’s what we’ll ask.” His party’s representatives, as well as those of the Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea, abstained from voting during the election of the court’s members.
On the economic front, the House of Representatives approved a $150 million loan from the World Bank to finance the import of wheat, while the country suffers from an acute shortage of flour and bread. This loan should extend over a period of “seven to nine months”, according to details provided by outgoing Minister of Economy and Trade Amine Salam to L’Orient-Le Jour, and enable “the financing of the country’s supply of wheat”. and help maintain affordable bread prices for poor and vulnerable families,” a World Bank spokesperson told Laurent Today in May.
And this loan was not approved without some deputies, including Ibrahim Kanaan, which raised several questions, especially those related to knowing whether the General Directorate of Grains and Sugar Beet was competent to open a credit line for importing wheat. According to Mr. Kanaan, this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance. Other elected officials emphasized that the World Bank loan would benefit “foreigners,” referring to refugees, particularly Syrians in Lebanon.
The Prime Minister-designate added, “Most of the bread produced benefits non-Lebanese, and everyone knows that,” without providing any evidence for his allegations.
Food security concerns, already high due to the crisis in the country, have been exacerbated since the start of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on February 24, both major grain exporters in Lebanon and the region, have halted these exports. But the Ukrainian ambassador to Lebanon, Ihor Otaş, informed, on Monday, the outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Bou Habib, that his country will resume wheat shipments to Lebanon “as of this week”, after signing an agreement with Russia. last Friday.
In this context, the head of the “Free Patriotic Movement” MP Gebran Bassil called on the parliament to adopt a recommendation to end subsidies on wheat. The Speaker of the House of Representatives replied, “The decision to end the support is up to the government, not Parliament to do so.” Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati responded, “We take into account the will of Parliament. If you want to lift subsidies, make a recommendation to that effect.”
Since the beginning of the crisis in Lebanon, the Banque du Liban has supported wheat through a mechanism that allows the sector to import this essential commodity thanks to foreign currency financing at the official rate (1,507.5 pounds to the dollar), 100% since then. Spring 2021 and not at the parallel market price (about 29,500 pounds in recent days). A mechanism the sector fears will be lifted once the World Bank loan is implemented. The outgoing Minister of Economy, Amine Salam, has regularly assured in recent weeks to L’Orient-Le Jour that even if the World Bank loan comes into effect, this lifting can only take place “gradually”.
Our correspondent indicates that the representatives have also adopted Bill No. 8952 that allows opening an additional appropriation of 10 thousand billion Lebanese pounds in the draft budget 2022. According to a press release from the outgoing Minister of Finance, Youssef Khalil, this amount includes transportation costs for soldiers and civil servants , medical costs and the costs of the Lebanese University, through the Ministry of Education. The 2022 budget was voted on by the Mikati government last February and sent to the Finance Committee just a month later. The Commission has been asking since April for clarification on the EGP 10 trillion credit line and the exchange rates. Be that as it may, the adoption of the budget by Parliament will take place outside the constitutional deadlines, as this provision constitutes one of the requirements for granting a loan of $3 billion over four years from the International Monetary Fund.
Parliament approved, among other things, a bill on cooperation with Cyprus to fight fires, and many fires destroy large green spaces in Lebanon every year.
The Prime Minister-designate also confirmed during the session that his team is “following closely” the issue of helping civil servants who have been on strike for more than a month “in order to provide them with solutions as much as possible.” . It is expected that this file will be resolved on Wednesday. “We are doing our best, but we do not have the means to do so,” he admitted.
The Parliament meeting was postponed around 3:30 pm but is scheduled to resume in the next few hours.
The first plenary session of the House of Representatives was elected for legislative elections on May 15. The session opened on Tuesday at 11 am in the Clubs Square in downtown Beirut, and was characterized by bitter exchanges between MPs from various parties, which did not prevent the MPs from adopting a law arranging banking secrecy, allowing them to lift this secrecy, which is in force. Where…