Cabinet last night agreed on the subject of the ratification of the public sector pay scales draft law. The project's annual cost was estimated at 362 billion Lebanese Liras. But the government decided to retrieve the retirement plan. Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa said after the meeting the plan would be amended and sent back to parliament.
Parliamentary sources also expected that the retroactive effect of the bill would be postponed or even cancelled.
The whole public scales project will be tackled at a parliamentary legislative session to start next Tuesday and to be held over a period of three consecutive days. Negotiations on the project between Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and House Speaker Nabih Berri have been mediated by Sabaa and the head of the finance and budget parliamentary committee, Deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi.
President Elias Al-Hrawi today held talks over the phone with the Minister of War Displaced Walid Jumblatt thanking him on the congratulatory message he sent yesterday to President-elect General Emil Lahhoud. In this letter, Jumblatt expressed his willingness to cooperate with Lahhoud after he officially takes up office on November 24. Jumblatt also listed a number of challenges that await Lahhoud and praised the achievements of outgoing President Elias Al-Hrawi. Jumblatt's surprising message to Lahhoud followed his boycott of the presidential election session.
President Hrawi was also handed this morning the credentials of the newly appointed ambassadors of Norway, Brazil, and Sweden during a meeting attended by Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz and the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry Zafer Al-Hassan.
House Speaker Nabih Berri today held discussions over the long-pending pay scales bill with the head of the General Labor Confederation in Lebanon, Elias Abu-Rizk. The GLC leader later told reporters he also discussed with the house speaker issues related to the rent law project. Abu-Rizk called on Berri to reach a comprehensive housing plan before ratifying the new law. He added the issues of the retroactive effect and the retirement plan would remain suspended until the budget project of the coming phase is studied. The House Speaker also received today the head of the editors' syndicate, Melhem Karam.
The head of the parliamentary finance and budget committee, Deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi held talks today with Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri on the public sector pay scales draft bill. Hrawi expected parliament's legislative session next week would reach an agreement over sources to fund the project.
Meanwhile, the Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani carried out his first visit to the Grand Saray today. After meeting the premier, Qabbani hoped progress would be made in the country during the upcoming presidency of General Emil Lahhoud.
The Lebanese premier also received at noon the British Ambassador to Lebanon David Ross MacLenin who later said discussions focused on recent regional developments hoping progress will be made during the current US-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Also at the Grand Saray today, visiting Iranian Housing Minister, Ali Abdel Ali Zadah and the accompanying Iranian delegation held talks with Prime Minister Hariri in the presence of Acting Finance Minister Fouad Sanyoura, Agriculture Minister Shawki Fakhoury, and Transportation Minister Omar Miskawi. Three agreements were signed during the meeting that include pacts to avoid double taxation, encourage investment, and boost agricultural cooperation between Lebanon and Iran.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today sent a congratulatory message to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the anniversary of the UN foundation. Hariri praised the accomplishments of the UN in maintaining peace and stability in many parts of the world. The premier also noted that Lebanon was among the countries that participated in formulating the UN charter and the International Bill on Human Rights. Hariri praised the international organization's continuous efforts at encouraging peaceful solutions to world problems. Hariri also expressed his deep appreciation for the work of UN Interim Forces in Southern Lebanon.
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir today met Engineer Samir Traboulsi who headed a delegation of the Popular Conference. Traboulsi later announced the group's support for Former Prime Minister Saleem Al-Hoss as a possible candidate for the office of prime minister in the next government. He also called for a technocrat government. Traboulsi added the Popular Conference voices support for President-elect General Emil Lahhoud.
Also at Bkirki, the Maronite Patriarch held separate meetings today with a delegation from the municipality of Hareesa and another delegation headed by Pierre Amin Al-Jmayyel.
The head of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine today hoped national unity would be boosted in the next phase. He also praised the accomplishments scored in the country during the last nine years. Shamseddine was speaking during a ceremony held at the Islamic University in Beirut on the occasion of the beginning of the new academic year. Minister of Culture and Higher Education Fawzi Hobeish, who also attended the event, said the ministry is highly concerned with boosting both public and private universities in the country.
The International Red Cross Committee today organized another family visit to Lebanese prisoners in the Israeli-run detention center in Khiam. An ICRC convoy early this morning carried 20 family members to the Khiam prison.
They visited nine Lebanese detainees there: Mohammed Saleem Qatbey, Moustafa Tawbeh, Ali Tawbeh, Khanjar Shaayb, Abbas Mohammed Attieh, Qassem Loutfi Assaf, Ibrahim Abu-Sari, Khaled Abu-Sari and Maher Qassem Hamdan.
The convoy departed from Nabatieh and passed through the Kfar Tibnit border crossing. It is expected to return via the same crossing later today.
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