Lebanon’s parliament resorts to band-aid solutions to avoid collapse
BEIRUT: Tuesday’s legislative session reflected the chaos and confusion facing Lebanon, with interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri throwing the issue of wheat subsidy removal like a hot potato.
The session culminated in the approval of an amendment to the bank secrecy law, which had been discussed in the presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, as it is part of the reforms demanded by the international community as a condition for helping the country.
“The approval of the Bank Secrecy Law Amendment should be viewed positively by the international community,” said MP Ibrahim Kanaan. “We expect the government to restructure the banks to go in the direction of what we have adopted. The capital control law also needs to be changed and the government is required to work seriously in this regard.
During the session, which included several debates and heated responses, Mikati addressed an agenda item regarding a request for approval of a $150 million loan agreement from the World Bank to implement is implementing an emergency response project to secure the supply of wheat. “Most of the breads made with subsidized flour are for non-Lebanese, and everyone knows that.
He told MPs: ‘If you want to lift the subsidies on wheat, and you want the government to do it, issue a recommendation from Parliament to do so.’ Berri refused to do so.
Acting Economy Minister Amin Salam said if wheat subsidies were lifted, the price of a pack of bread would be between LBP 30,000 (around $1) and LBP 35,000.
“Under the agreement with the World Bank, the loan implementation mechanism will start in the coming weeks to secure the necessary funds, and thus secure a social safety net,” he noted.
Dozens of bakeries ran out of bread on Tuesday due to lack of flour, which is now being sold on the black market at exorbitant prices. The available bread was swept away by people who rushed to the bakeries in the early morning, depriving others of the hope of finding it during the day.
People often insult the state or the Syrian refugees, blaming them for what is happening.
Salam said Syrian refugees consume around 40% of imported subsidized wheat: 500,000 packs of bread a day.
Mikati told MPs: “The government is seeking to resolve the issue of public sector employees who have been on strike for more than a month to provide solutions within available capacity.
“We are spending within the limits despite the lack of resources. We are awaiting the report from the Minister of Finance on the cost of salary increases. We don’t want to give with one hand and take with the other to avoid inflation.
MP Hadi Abu Al Hassan said: “The ongoing strike is paralyzing the country. Parliament should discuss the 2022 draft budget, otherwise we are heading towards more inflation. If the problem is the lack of a unified exchange rate, then the government should propose a fixed rate to parliament for discussion. We want a budget bill and a recovery plan, instead of spending without having revenue and thus aggravating the crisis.
MP Waddah Al-Sadiq said: “Tuesday’s session was aimed at finding temporary solutions while the ship sinks further. The whole country is facing an economic collapse. The bailout process begins with an economic plan, followed by a budget emanating from the plan, and finally the approval of laws. Our governments are working backwards.
Among the points approved by parliament was the formation of a supreme council for the trial of presidents and ministers, composed of seven deputies from different sects. Berri insists that this council, and not justice, judge the defendants, including former ministers and current deputies, accused of being involved in the explosion of the port of Beirut.
This followed a demonstration organized by the families of the victims in the vicinity of the parliament, against the formation of this council.
They also demanded that the partially destroyed grain silos be preserved as silent witnesses to the crime.
“The formation of this council is an attempt to evade judicial investigation, to prevent the prosecution of defendants in any crime,” the families of the victims said.
Interim Environment Minister Nasser Yassin, a member of the ministerial committee to review the status of the silos, told Arab News: “The silos are rocking. We have coordinated sensors with French experts to study this tilting movement, which began with the explosion of 2020 and has become more pronounced over time, in particular with the ongoing fires that are breaking out inside the structure due to summer heat and humidity. The silos tilt more now, about 2.5 millimeters per hour. We fear that part of the remaining structure will collapse and lead to catastrophic consequences.
On Monday evening, the Ministry of Health warned residents within a radius of 500 to 1,500 meters that “in the event of the silos collapsing or partially collapsing, dust resulting from construction remains and certain fungi from the rot the grains will be released and spread through the air.