Pending a new round of talks between Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and those who opposed his development plan, it seemed yesterday that the repercussions of the downfall or the freezing of the plan, were racing with the compromises which an anticipated dialogue could lead to.
Meanwhile, the sudden decision by the Union of Private Hospitals to collect the hospitalization bills directly from "non-needy" patients as of October 1, raised a big hustle due to the adverse effects this would have on the majority of the Lebanese people.
Some political circles interpreted the Union's decision as rendering a service to the arguments put forth by Hariri to bring those who opposed his plan to amend their stance. But Hariri cut short these interpretations, and issued a kind of an ultimatum, saying, "the health of the citizens is a red line nobody is allowed to bypass, especially in view of the consultations the government is performing to find solutions for the impending social issues."
Contacts to find a solution that would bring the Union to revoke its measures, though they excluded needy patients and emergencies, proceeded at a quick pace, especially since these measures have created legal complications with Lebanese insurance companies. In this respect, the boards of directors of these companies reminded the Union of the binding contracts between the two parties, and called it to revoke the measures it has taken.
Informed sources expected these contacts to render a quick solution, especially in view of the immense pressures this has placed on the officials. As a result, consultations were reportedly resumed to prevent the problem from expanding to other areas. The atmosphere, they said, insinuated that solutions are shortly expected, particularly because those who opposed the plan do not reject the plan itself, as was yesterday announced by Public Health Minister Suleiman Franjieh, but the augmentation of gasoline prices and levying new taxes. The anticipated dialogue is therefore expected to find a solution for this particular point, on the basis of which the plan, as a whole, will be determined through mutual political renunciations.
On the issue of suspending the work of the Ministry for the Displaced, a source at the Ministry said that Jumblat will officially announce the decision next week. Accordingly, the implementation of evacuations and settlements set for the Mount of Lebanon area would be halted, except perhaps for the evacuations set for the town of Dfoun. He said the unavailability of funds by the end of the current fiscal year, would create oppositions to any measures taken due to the current inability to balance between the Mountain and other areas. Therefore, suspending the work of the Ministry was found to be the only alternative under the circumstances. The source also expressed Minister Jumblat's support for the project suggested by MP Wadih Akl with regard to settling the issue of sea property. He pointed out that this project would provide the Ministry with revenues amounting to $150m, thus bringing its annual budget to $250m.
The decision by the Union of Private Hospitals to collect hospitalization bills directly from non-needy patients as of October 1, seemed to represent the first reaction to the downfall of Hariri's $800m plan. But it created panic among citizens, despite assurances that it would exclude needy patients and emergency cases.
The decision taken by the Union last Thursday, explained that the measure was necessitated by the fact that all hospitals were under heavy debts due to contract violations by insuring parties. It said hospitals found themselves impelled to directly collect bills from non- needy patients against a receipt. The latter would then have to collect the amounts paid from the insuring parties.
Press reports said insurance companies did not conceal their dissatisfaction with the decision, considering it was both political and aiming at rendering a service to Prime Minister Hariri.
Fawzi Adaimi, Head of the Union, said the measure is not directed at citizens as, while it engulfs wealthy people and cases that could be postponed, it excludes emergency cases and needy patients.
The decision, in principle, covers all types of insurance establishments, including public and private institutions. In this regard, Adaimi explained that in addition to emergency cases and needy patients, hospitals would be free to receive non-emergency cases relative to private insurance companies that pay their dues on time.
Adaimi, replying to a question, said he was not surprised at the accusation saying that the Union's decision was "a pressure card aiming at helping Hariri's", especially since Hariri's plan explicitly expressed the intention to settle hospital bills. He said "all parties concerned could invest the decision to their interest. But all what we care for is that our demands are fair and rightful".
On the other hand, private insurance companies, in a statement by its Board of Directors yesterday, said the Board has decided to ask the Union of Private Hospitals to negate the news relating to the measures taken with regard to private insurance companies. It said the Union should otherwise reveal the reasons for stopping its cooperation with private hospitals, despite the binding contracts signed between the two sides, and the fact that many are fulfilling their financial obligations, and should not be unjustifiably hurt. It also decided to postpone resorting to legal measures pending the answer of the Union, and reassured those possessing insurance policies that their rights are protected and their hospitalization expenses are available without any change.
Prime Minister Hariri has officially opened the presidential election bid, a leading newspaper today reported. The issue came to light when, upon returning from Damascus last Thursday, Hariri affirmed to reporters that extending the term or President Hrawi "is not at all under consideration". Then, asked, "perhaps a renewal of his term might this time be considered", he said "neither this nor that".
Hariri, always speaking with affection and amity when referring to President Hrawi, has always been keen on pointing out that "President Hrawi himself does not want the extension". He didn't either comment on a remark saying that Hrawi, before extending his term in office in 1995, remained until the last moment repeating his rejection of the idea.
Instead, Hariri said, "this time there will be no extension and you will find in due time that I was right, and such a thing will not take place and President Hrawi will insist on rejecting the matter, in case it was seriously proposed".
To further affirm his point, Hariri advised those concerned to begin searching for who will be the next president of the republic. Jokingly, he said," if I were a journalist I would do that"
Hariri, who previously said that he did not find an explanation to what took place during the Cabinet's recent meeting, does not exclude the possibility that vetoing his plan could be the beginning of a campaign aiming at weakening him as a major elector in the upcoming presidential elections. He said, "this was a possibility".
Meanwhile, the talk about the presidential election is likely to bring to light the names of some old and new candidates, including Michel Edde, Jean Obeid, Pierre Helou, Robert Ghanem, Nasib Lahoud, and Butros Harb.
Added to these, the name of the Lebanese Army Commander General Emile Lahoud was one repeatedly mentioned in most talks about presidential elections. The list includes many other seekers as well, perhaps in line of what someone once said, "every Maronite is a potential presidential candidate".
State Minister for Financial Affairs Fouad Siniora, in a statement entitled, " a reminder so that we don't forget", yesterday focused on the recent remarks and the criticism addressed to the government by former Prime Minister Selim Hoss.
In his statement Siniora highlighted that the "the gross domestic product of Lebanon, according to latest estimates by the International Monitory Funds, will reach $15bn by the end of the current year. On the other hand, public debt is still in the vicinity of $12.6bn. Contrary to what has been said, this means that public debt is still below the gross domestic product. This public debt is divided into a foreign public debt equivalent to $2.2bn as at August 31, 1997, and an internal net debt equivalent to LP16,000bn (about $10.4bn)".
"The talk about the failure of the government's economic policy is a political talk that has no relation with economics or international standards, Siniora said. Indicative of this is the rush of many European and non European Countries, as well as international Investment funds, to extend to Lebanon the loans it needs. Wasn't that a proof of the confidence the World has in the policy adopted by the Lebanese Government ?"
"Criticism is easy", Siniora added, "but work under difficult and complicated internal conditions, and under the pressure of regional and international circumstances, is very difficult and should not be taken lightly".
"The plan", he said, "ought to be studied objectively and away from political interests, whereby one should regard the importance of these vital projects on one hand, and the necessity of providing the necessary financial resources to avoid augmenting the budget deficit in the year to come".
"Finally", Siniora said, "we should not judge things away from what Israel is doing in Lebanon. We should not either forget that Israel is launching a war at us every day, and is steadily working on wrecking our economic, financial, political and social stability".
As to the Friends to Lebanon Conference, "Lebanon was promised $3.2bn over the coming four years. The draft laws relating to these laws are gradually being referred to the parliament for ratification", Siniora clarified.
The French Ambassador to Lebanon Daniel Jouaneau, after visiting Patriarch Sfeir yesterday, reiterated his country's "support for Lebanon's sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the implementations of UN resolutions relating to the South".
Hoping peace will return to all the Lebanese, Jouaneau expressed the belief that "all good-willed countries can contribute a lot to the resumption of dialogue on the peace process. He said, "the United States has a major and important role to play in the Middle East, and we were pleased with the visit by the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Lebanon, and naturally encourage the American Diplomacy to revive the Palestinian Israeli Dialogue.
He also said that France views that the European Union has a role to play, especially since the American and the European diplomacies are proceeding together on two parallel lines".
Former Prime Minister Omar Karami in a press conference yesterday said, "the Lebanese people were the ones who knocked out Prime Minister Hariri's plan at the Cabinet, because drowning people in heavy taxes is something every body rejects".
Karami, estimating that the people's opposition to the government has reached 99.99 percent, urged the government to "stop squandering, improve tax collection and resort to measures other than borrowing money to tackle the budget deficit".
He also viewed that the ratio of the budget deficit this year has jumped over 60 percent, while "Hariri and the minister in charge of financial affairs Fouad Siniora have previously boasted about a modern and revolutionary budget with a deficit lower 35 percent".
About the recent incidents in Tripoli Karami, responding to a question, wondered "Why Tripoli was chosen first, and why the brutality and the shooting and killing?"
"Until now", he said, "we couldn't understand why that has happened, but if the question is one relating to State esteem and respect, the State must apply the law to all. But if the matter is contrary to that, I would be the first to reopen my information media".
A series of reactions appeared yesterday in Lebanon following a televised statement by Interior Minister Michel Murr in France, after a meeting he had with his French counterpart Jean-Pierre Chevanemen. In that statement, Murr said that Lebanon "suffers from two dangers: the Israeli occupation in the South, and the presence of 300,000 Palestinians inside camps, including 20,000 armed men". He also said that all those who commit crimes in Lebanon take refuge in the camps while Lebanon's security forces are prohibited from entering them by international conventions.
Polite Bureau Chief of the Jamaa Islamiyah (Islamic Group) in Lebanon, Ali Sheik Ammar, said in a Statement that " such talk is harmful to the Palestinian cause, and drives the Palestinians to wonder about the aim of Minister Murr who never saved an effort to hurt them, degrade them and deprive them from their daily bread".
Ammar viewed Murr's statement as antagonistic to "Lebanon's consensus over the Palestinian cause and an entanglement of the government in a hostile stance against it". He also denounced Murr's equalizing between the Palestinian Presence in Lebanon and the Israeli occupation in the South, and affirmed that the Palestinians are more opposed than the Lebanese to any attempt at settling them permanently in Lebanon.
The leadership of "Fath" movement in Lebanon, in a statement, also criticized Murr, saying that "the Palestinians are present in Lebanon because of the Israeli occupation of Palestine", and that "they have contributed a lot to Lebanon's economic and social revival".
Similarly, the "Alliance of Palestinian Forces" in Lebanon denounced Murr's statements and "the unjust decisions he took against the Palestinian people who are forcibly living on Lebanon's soil".
In turn, the head of the Sidon Muslim Ulama Association, Sheik Maher Hammoud, also accused Murr of instigating a new attack against the Palestinian and Islamic Factions. In his Friday sermon, he also said that Murr should extend apologies to the Palestinians and Moslems in Lebanon.
On Sunday, September 28, at the Kahraba Zouk Stadium, phase one of the quartet tournament of Lebanon's first degree basket ball championship for ladies, are to be held as follows:
17:00 Antranic Beirut - Shabab Ghbeiri: 19:00 Homentmen Beirut - Homentmen Antelias. The two other phases are to be held on Tuesday, September 30, and on Thursday, October 2
-Mount Lebanon's second degree volley ball championship is to be held on Sunday, September 28 at the Sharaf Stadium, as follows: 15:30 Ibadat - Sadak; 16:30 Mar Elias Dekwani - Baaseer; 18:00 Phoenicia Jubail - Liwa Fanar; 19:30 Shiraa Boir - Talaei Jadra;
On Thursday last, Halat overcame Mar Elias Dikwani 3-1, Sadaka overcame Baasir 3-0; Adab and Riyada Kefershima overcame Boir 3-2; Liwa Fanar overcame Talei by withdrawal; Sadaka overcame Mar Elias Dikwani 3-0; Ibadat overcame Halat 3-2; Shira Boir overcame Liwa Fanar 3-0 and Adab and Riyada Kefarshima overcame Phoenicia Jubail 3-0.
-In Lebanon's table tennis championship for beginners at the Mont La Sale Club on Friday, Riyadi Beirut overcame Tadamon Barja 3-0; Qalb Al Assad overcame Jamhour 3-1; Mont La Sale overcame Meriamites Deek Al Mihdi 3-1; Riyadi overcame Qalb Al Assad 3-2; Liwa Saida overcame Riyadi Baabda 3-0; Tadamon Hrajil overcame Homemtmen 3-2 and Liwa Saida overcame Adab and Riyada Kefarshima 3-0.
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