FPM, PSP Ministers Rattle Sabers over Controversial Issues

Ministers loyal to Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat clashed during a cabinet session on Wednesday in what was seen as an attempt by the representatives of the FPM to exact revenge on the PSP ministers for scrutinizing Energy Minister Jebran Bassil’s electricity project.

During a lengthy session held at the Grand Serail, Bassil asked Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, who is loyal to Jumblat, to unveil all projects carried out by his ministry, ministerial sources told An Nahar daily on Thursday.

Bassil’s request angered Aridi and both ministers began shouting at each other. The energy minister also accused Aridi of spending funds on infrastructure works without the prior approval of the government.

Another dispute took place between Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour, who is from Jumblat’s party, and Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas who hinted that Abou Faour’s program to support poor families had political intentions.

Nahhas requested the cabinet to be informed about the deals made within the program, drawing a harsh retort from the PSP minister.

Last month, the cabinet approved an electricity project proposed by Bassil. But the endorsement came following months of wrangling between FPM ministers and mainly government members loyal to Jumblat who had asked for transparency and a clear mechanism to control the $1.2 billion funds to generate 700 Megawatts of electricity.

Wednesday’s arguments between the two sides were the ramifications of the debate that had raged over the electricity plan.

The ministerial sources said that the heated debate went out of hand when Premier Najib Miqati approved a proposal made by Ministers Mohammed Fneish and Ali Hassan Khalil to form a ministerial committee headed by Deputy PM Samir Moqbel on the implementation of the oil exploration law.

Bassil, who is vying for the post, rejected the proposal, drawing a condemnation by Miqati who expressed regret at the differences inside the cabinet and told the energy minister to either accept the suggestion or he would withdraw from discussion his proposal on oil exploration.

The cabinet later approved for Miqati to head the committee and for Moqbel to become a member. But the deputy PM refused.

Despite the verbal clashes, the government approved among other things, plans to start drilling for oil and gas on Lebanese soil after mapping the territories.

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