Parliament Convenes in First Session to Tackle 2019 State Budget
The Parliament convened on Tuesday in its first legislative session to discuss and ratify the 2019 state budget amid heightened security measures as retired servicemen rallied in Downtown Beirut protesting budget articles that would affect their benefit pay.
Legislators are scheduled to hold successive morning and evening sessions until Thursday.
The Finance and Budget Parliamentary Committee has referred the draft to the Parliament last week after wrapping its discussions and introducing some amendments.
Speaker Nabih Berri said at the beginning of the session that "the Cabinet will convene during the general Parliament session to discuss the budget.”
Head of the Finance and Budget Committee, MP Ibrahim Kanaan said the committee had convened 31 times between the 3rd of June and the 9th of July, noting the absence of an economic and social vision within the draft state budget that had been referred to it, as well as the low proportion of credit allocated to investment expenses.
"The Committee had introduced amendments to the draft budget and could have made further amendments had it received said draft during the constitutional deadline, that is before the beginning of the 2019 fiscal year," Kanaan explained.
He pointed out that the committee had amended 65 out of 99 articles and jettisoned 7 articles, adding that the amendments dealt with reducing the appropriation of some expenses allocated to some administrations.
The lawmaker also made clear that the committee had completed budget studies taking into account that the closure of 2018 accounts had not been completed yet.
For his part Hizbullah MP and Loyalty to the Resistance bloc member Hassan Fadlallah said: "Our position is clear in terms of refusing compromises over public money; any attempt to reach a settlement is a crime against public funds and the country, and we will endeavor to prevent this crime.”
He also highlighted the legal and constitutional obligation to complete the closure of accounts to "protect public funds," stressing that it is the duty of the government to shoulder this responsibility.
MP Sethrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces bloc meanwhile announced that her party will abstain from voting on the budget.
“We wanted it to be a budget of tough measures and a budget of acknowledging the reality of the situation, but it comes as a budget of hesitation and procrastination,” Geagea said.
“That’s why the LF party will abstain from voting for this budget, despite our support for some of its articles, which unfortunately are much less than what is required at the moment,” the MP added.
“I ask God to be with Lebanon in these difficult days,” she went on to say.
MP Bilal Abdullah of the Democratic Gathering lamented that a lot of his bloc’s proposals were overlooked, noting that it will re-submit them in the form of draft laws.
“The current budget comes under the pressure of economic collapse and have not studied the economic and social repercussions in a serious manner,” he said.
He, however, announced that his bloc will vote in favor of the budget.
MP Jamil al-Sayyed decried that “there is nothing in the budget that can rescue the country.”
“It is a repetition of the previous budgets and an attempt to escape forward,” he added.
MP Michel Mouawad of the Strong Lebanon bloc said he is not convinced by the budget but will vote for it, describing it as an “emergency landing” budget.
“The results are not guaranteed,” he noted.
As for the controversy over the presentation of the so-called final accounts, MTV reported that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has agreed to a formula proposed by the Strong Lebanon bloc.
“It calls for a six-month extension of the timeframe for submitting the final accounts, which negates the need for a cabinet session,” MTV added.
Speaker Nabih Berri meanwhile confirmed that there will be no cabinet session anytime soon, which prompted MP George Adwan to decry what he called a "constitutional violation."