Setback in Budget Discussions as Ministers Bicker over Syria
The government's discussions on the 2020 state budget suffered a setback on Monday as Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil’s plans to visit Syria sparked controversy.
"The financial and economic situation is very critical and does not bear a breach of the government's policy statement and Arab consensus," Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani of the Lebanese Forces said after a cabinet session at the Grand Serail.
"Using the issue of Syrian refugees as an alibi and restoring the relation with the Syrian regime might subject Lebanon to sanctions and jeopardize international support," he warned.
Education Minister Akram Shehayyeb said prior to the session that “it is up to Cabinet to decide whether any minister will go to Syria and if someone decided to visit Syria, let him go in his personal capacity.”
Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab meanwhile defended Bassil’s announcement.
“If there is a need to go to Syria, no one can stop any minister from going, seeing as diplomatic relations are still in place between the two countries,” Bou Saab said.
Separately, Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah announced after the session that "there is procrastination in the approval of some of the draft budget's articles," warning that "this has negative repercussions" and urging "further efforts and responsibility."
He added that another session will be held Tuesday afternoon to continue the discussions.
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil meanwhile noted that Lebanon seems to be "a house containing many houses."
"We are a state that is not a state and there is evasion of responsibility. The people are in a place and we are in another place," he lamented.
Khalil had voiced optimism before the session, saying the discussions could be wrapped up today.