The first parliament Budget debate began Jan 29 at 11.30 a.m with one hour delay, after the parliament voted against a plea by main opposition leaders to postpone debate until after the weekend. They claimed they have short time to read the last minute amendments, introduced on Saturday by the government and approved by the parliament's finance committee midnight of the same day, and also the budget preamble, both including around 400 pages.
The opposition's proposal plea was dropped down by voting, something revealed what could be called "masked troika". The debating started after one hour argument over postponing or not. Some 116 deputy were present and only eight addressed the assembly while 21 waiting coming debates. Observers see that the first surprise was the harmony between the speaker and prime minister as it appeared, perhaps in bid to save the debates.
There is little expectations on drastic changes on the proposed draft budget, and bannerlines say the government won points against the parliamentary opposition.
Deputies who addressed the assembly on Jan. 29,1997
Deputy of Beirut Selim Hoss: "The basic loophole in the structure of the budget is the exclusion of the development and reconstruction spendings which are approved in special decrees, especially the spendings which are financed by external loans, consequently the fiscal budget is not reflecting, actually and accurately, the state activities and its working plan.
The investment allocations in the 1997 budget are half than that in the 1996 budget and that contradicts with the government ambitions to increase its spending on reconstruction and development. Another loophole is that the government does not include all expenditures which should be paid, such as overdue debts to contractors, hospitals, social security, charges collected on behalf of municipalities, and also the over due amounts to the new scales of salaries to public teachers, also amounts to be given to the displaced fund. All those obligations are not included in the public debts' account recalled that the public debts exceeded L.L10 bn at the end of 1996.
There is a waste of money in the public spending as a result of corruption, compromisory contracts, the policies of the south and displaced funds, embezzlements as it was said in public and also in the intimidated establishing of new more portfolios.
Raising the indirect taxes primarily has affected the middle class and the poor. Cutting down average of taxes did not turn Lebanon to taxation heaven. The direct taxes are on companies and capitals while the indirect ones are primarily imposed on middle class and poor, for that a taxation system should not only aim to collect revenues but also to redistribute wealth and judging on that the Lebanese taxation system is unfair. Government's figures are extremely optimistic, such as the predicted deficit in 1996 which was 37.6 per cent but the figures collected so far put it at 51 per cent. Such difference should not be blamed on April aggression by Israel because deficits in past years since 1993 was same and now the government is predicting a 36 per cent deficit in 1997, but actual figures will be 50 percent.
Deputy of Tyre Ali el Khalil: " The nominal deficit is not real because it is not reflecting the large spendings through the loans and treasury lendings. The preamble called for Lebanon participation in the world economy but missed to mention the M.E. market's scheme designed to serve Israeli interests. Indirect taxes is not justified as it increase the burdens on the low earners."
Deputy of Chuf Zaher El Khatib; "The deficit figures are not realistic. If the Public sector is given 20 percent increase same as the private sector, the public spending will jump up by L.L 180 bn. what about the L.L 180bn needed to cover the new scales of salaries for teachers, the L.L 40bn to the contractors, the L.L 100bn that the electricity is expected to incur, and furthermore the expenses of the municipal elections for June. A parliamentary committee should be formed to investigate the finance ministry fake revenues stamps fraud. Once the committee concludes its procedures the Finance minister should stand before the parliament for a vote of confidence. The estimated expenses are L.L 6433bn and the estimated revenues are L.L 4100bn and such figures are not realistic. Calling for setting a ceiling for debt which not be exceeded. Critical to the internal debts policy to fix the Lebanese pound rate something does not reflect economical revival."
Deputy of Baalbeck-Hermel Hussein Haj Hassan: " what we are reading is part not all the budget. The government ignored investments and loans and focused only on tax revenues which is nearly 75 percent. Our information is that external debt is $11 bn and only $ 4 bn are freezed at central bank. There are enormous spendings through the CDR, the south and displaced funds, loans which are approved by decrees. The budget is not a development one as allocations decreased from L.L 800bn in 1996 to only L.L 550bn in 1997. How can we speak about developing agricultural sector at time allocations to that is only 0.88 percent including salaries. The public sector which the government says it is costly and of big burden cannot be blamed but it is the government which does not reform it and develop, recalled that politicians are responsible for the corruption because they intervene in every minute detail .Speaking about the weakness of the public sector is a pretext to weaken it more until a time it is replaced by privatesation.
The parliament is to continue debating the budget today in two sessions and on television.
Prime minister Rafic Hariri said at another daily Iftar at his palace in Beirut, something becoming a daily opportunity and feature, that he would agree to abolishment of the political confessionalism only if the overwhelming majority of Christians, who are feeling threatened of such measure, declare their full support to the idea and have complete conviction of the idea. He denied that his government has bargained on the realization of peace saying Lebanon wants peace with dignity, with the restoration of our land and by implementing the 425 and other UN resolutions.
Mr Hariri said the civil marriage contradicts with religion. He said there should be no worry of the disagreement between the presidents as neither their agreements or disagreements would affect the country, which has an order and mechanism that ensures stability, recalling that it is only war of declarations not military one.
Defense attorneys of Samir Geagea complained yesterday they were not being allowed proper communication with him, adding they could not talk to him except through a glass separator which prohibits exchange of documents. The judicial Council continued yesterday the trial of Geagea on charges of an attempted assassination of the then defense minister Michel Murr in 1991. The prosecution continued yesterday with a string of witnesses testifying against him. Fuad Malek, former chief of staff of the Lebanese Forces, has ruled out in principle the possibility of militants operations to take place without Geagea's consent, but said " however, the previous trials have proved that such possibility could have happened". The deputy prosecutor general read a report by prosecutor general Adnan Addoum , who visited the prison on Tuesday and confirmed the legality of the Geagea conditions. The president of the Judicial council Philip Khairallah ruled that discussions between the attorneys and the clients are allowed and the documents can be sent through the court.
Gen. Michel Aoun, responding to remarks made by Mr Hariri on Tuesday , calling the judiciary to conclude investigations into the case of fraud, said he calls the authorities in Lebanon to break the state of limbo on frozen investigations into allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars during his 1989 term as president. He said also " the file is in the hands of the authorities, if they have evidence let them charge me and if not let them restore my rights". He said he was never informed of such charges but his money in the Lebanese banks were confiscated by the state. He hoped that a trial would be opened then the charger will become an accused, He said.
The Papal Nuncio Pablo Puente said after meeting cardinal Sfair that the pope visit to Lebanon would take place after the winter but final date was not fixed.
Moslem Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani said the Fatwa will be firm enough against anything that harms Moslems and rejects using Ramadan as a shield to some people's amusements, even if such amusement is innocent, and called those who promoted established Ramadan Tents to remove the title Ramadan on it.
The Lebanese parliament corrects the figures published here on the cost of its new venue saying its L.L 14bn not 60 bn.
Foreign minister Fares Boueiz, who is also a deputy of Kesrouan, met for second time with rival deputy Rashid El Khazen, following their conciliation last week, to discuss the situation in Kesrouan.
The National Bloc party lead by Raymond Edde said yesterday the government is ignorant of the hard living conditions and majority of the Lebanese feel they are let down to those capitalists who own the cash liquidity. It has called for giving guidance to the satellite programmes which should be broadcasted and not to impose prior censor.
The ministry of environment, in response to the declarations of the greenpeace spokesman in Lebanon, defends the emergency plan aims to close down the Burj Hammoud dump. It said if the Greenpeace has an alternative scientific plan the ministry is ready to discuss and adopt it.
Coptic Pope Shenouda III , during a stopover in Beirut airport on his way back from Cyprus, urged the Lebanese to be loyal to Lebanon and the Arab cause in general, warning of the spread of the "Satanic Cult" that was recently uncovered in Egypt.
Army sources said yesterday the 122 Kurds who were intercepted by the navy off Tripoli may be deported to Syria or face the charge of illegal entry to Lebanon.
The Labour Union said the fiscal budget for 1997 is dangerous and warned the government of levying any new taxes.
1.4 million dollars is to be paid by the European Union to the US consultancy firm Price Waterhouse which will extend managerial assistance to the ministry of economy.
35 persons, including 8 in custody, who clashed with policemen at Qantari Monday and wounded 15 policeman, will stand for trial, military prosecutor said.
Orthodox Bishop Elias Awdeh is receiving more visitors who condemn the leaflet distributed in Beirut against his latest criticism of the political and social conditions.
Qatar minister of industry and energy visited P.Hrawi and premier Hariri and declared his country is ready for assistance. He left Beirut after a 24 hours visit.
Following the council of minister's decision confirming Lebanon's hosting to the Arab sport tournament in July, the director of sports and youths called all clubs to a meeting to discuss ways to help the tournament to be successful.
Akhaa Aley won Homentmen 1-0 in a friendly football match yesterday.
The national soccer union called for a seminar on the horizons of the Lebanese football 2000.
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