Beirut: Though it took five full years of acrimonious debates, Lebanese parliamentarians finally approved a long-awaited new wage scale for civil servants and the armed forces, even if the vote was conditional to successful tax increases.
According to an official source, a specific addendum was added to the bill stipulating that the funding for the new wage structure would be deducted from the state budget should it be approved within a month, or else the wage scale would enter into effect even without the approval of the state budget.
The Minister of Finance, Ali Hassan Khalil, termed the passing of the bill “an achievement” despite the ugly exchanges witnessed during the course of the parliament session.
Khalil was involved in a verbal clash with Free Patriotic Movement secretary, Deputy Ebrahim Kanaan, who is also the head of the Parliamentary Finance Committee, when the minister referred to Kanaan’s remarks on a 1 trillion Lebanese pound (Dh2.4 billion) budget surplus as a “joke.” “I will not allow you to describe the effort of two and a half months as a joke,” Kanaan shouted, with Khalil retorting that “when he spoke,” Kanaan “needed to shut up.”
Speaker Nabih Berri ordered that the exchange be excised from the proceedings though he failed to take note that it was permanently catalogued on YouTube for posterity.
Far more seriously, however, Berri revealed that granting “recompenses” to public sector pensioners in three-year instalments, cannot “be given ‘for free’ and there are tax increases” coming.
For his part, Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri added: “We are with the rights of pensioners, youths and people, but should we fail to secure funds, what would pensioners gain from the collapse of the Lebanese pound?”
Phalange Party leader Sami Gemayel and Progressive Socialist Party deputy Wael Abu Faour noted that “should the state budget manage to secure abundant funds, there will be no need to hike the VAT tax and other taxes that harm citizens.”
Protesters representing several sectors rallied in Riad Al Solh Square in downtown Beirut, demanding a “fair” approval of the salary scale though it was difficult to see how political leaders could satisfy their requests. Although the Syndical Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, along with retired military personnel, among others, rallied to pressure state officials, parliamentary blocs were divided over the resources to fund the new wage structure. Importantly, private sector leaders warned against proposed taxes that, many averred, would have “a negative impact on the country’s economy”.