Lebanese press round-up: April 25, 2012

Press round-up for Wednesday, April 25th from the morning edition of Lebanon’s An-Nahar, Al-Akhbar, As-Safir, and Ad-Diyar newspapers.

Note: There is no press round-up on Sundays

  • Opening Titles

Berri: The prevailing atmosphere threatens the elections.

March 14 “secures” the Kataeb in the National Council.

  • Local News

The Council of Ministers is to hold an ordinary session this morning against a backdrop of livelihood crises besieging the cabinet, including the General Workers Union’s adamant decision to stage a strike on May 3 and the refusal by hospitals to take in patients covered by the National Social Security Fund.

Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi told An-Nahar that he will submit today from outside the agenda the matter pertaining to the 8.9 trillion-LL expenditure, knowing that he had already discussed with President Michel Sleiman the day before last in an attempt to find a legal solution to the issue.

Safadi went on saying: “The payment of salaries will be addressed and I have ideas allowing the payment of salaries in conformity with the law.” The finance minister asserted: “The draft budget is almost ready and I am committed to submitting it within 20 days at the latest.”

Economy Minister Nicolas Nahhas told An-Nahar that a decision will be issued today to complete the Council of Ministers’ earlier decision to maintain the price of a bread pack at 1,500 LL with the same number of loafs per pack, albeit with a weight of 900 grams instead of 1,000.

The star item on the Council of Ministers’ agenda today is the vote of Lebanese emigrants in the upcoming elections and the relevant mechanism. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour made allusions regarding the wish not to see this issue go through.

Mansour said that the diaspora is not excited [about the issue] and that only 5,000 nationals registered with Lebanese embassies to vote.

Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and Minister of State for Administrative Development Mohammad Fneish discussed Speaker Nabih Berri’s electoral proposition with President Sleiman and exited the meeting with positive impressions. Minister Khalil and a Hezbollah official are scheduled to meet with MP Walid Jumblatt tomorrow.

Speaker Berri summarized the propaganda in favor of his electoral proposition to An-Nahar, saying: “We are still probing the opinions of the various parties. [We] started with President Sleiman and [we will] go on with a round of consultations.”

Former PM Saad Hariri expanded his activity in Riyadh. He thus met yesterday with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal after having met with King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz and Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdel Aziz.

Former PM Hariri received a phone call from revoked Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh during which the latter mentioned Palestinian reconciliation and the general situation in the region.

Hariri also got a phone call from Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hamdan for the same purpose.

MP Jumblatt met with Prince Saud al-Faisal and is set to return to Beirut after having granted an appointment to Minister Khalil and [Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s political adviser Hajji Hussein] Khalil for tomorrow.

Jumblatt did not meet with any other Saudi officials, and said that his visit was of a private and unofficial nature.

An-Nahar has learned that a second meeting will be held in Maarab next week and will be followed by an announcement regarding the establishment of the National Council soon.

An-Nahar has also learned that a meeting was held at the Kataeb headquarters between former President Amin Gemayel and the committee tasked by March 14 forces with making contacts regarding the establishment of the National Council. The atmosphere of the meeting was reportedly “serious and positive.”

  • Opening Titles

The cabinet discusses the 8.9 trillion LL; Sleiman is urged to sign [the decree].

  • Local News

The Council of Ministers is to hold an ordinary session chaired by President Michel Sleiman today and is expected to discuss the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ proposition regarding the emigrants’ vote, in addition to the appointment of a general director of the Tender Administration at the Central Inspection Board.

The three candidates for that position are Jean Salim al-Elliyyeh, Hanna Boulos al-Aamil and Geryes Said Doumit.

Informed sources said that Elliyyeh is the most likely person to win the job since he has good relations with all parties, especially with Speaker Nabih Berri to whom he is connected through Court of Accounts President Aouni Ramadan.

Political sources from the majority told Al-Akhbar that March 8 ministers will raise the matter pertaining to the 8.9 trillion LL from outside the agenda and stress the need for publishing the relevant draft law.

In a phone conversation with Al-Akhbar, Minister of State for Administrative development Mohammad Fneish denied that he and Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil are leading any kind of mediation between President Sleiman and General Michel Aoun regarding administrative appointments.

Aoun asserted his supported for all forms of proportionality and for the establishment of a senate. Commenting on the attempt to assassinate Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Energy Minister Gebran Bassil’s statement in this respect, Aoun said: “We did not pre-empt the investigation into the attempted assassination.”

Geagea received a message yesterday from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who wished him well [following the attempt to assassinate him]. Davutoglu denounced “the vicious attack targeting not only an important political figure such as yourself, but also peace and stability.”

Speaker Berri discussed with Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel Karim Ali the current developments and the situation along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Ambassador Ali said that the measures adopted by the Lebanese Armed Forces are “positive.”

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s Appeals’ Chamber is to hold a secret session under the aegis of STL President Sir David Baragwanath in order to examine the defense team’s objection to setting a date for the start of trials before handing over the complete accusation file to the defense lawyers.

  • Opening Titles

Fneish to As-Safir: We reject [the idea of] a neutral cabinet.

“Proportionality” consultations are launched … without any illusions.

  • Local News

Speaker Nabih Berri told As-Safir that he has launched a series of political consultations regarding the proportionality proposition, saying that the consultations aim to probe the opinion of the various parties concerned on this issue.

MP Nehmeh Tohmeh reportedly played a key role in making arrangements for MP Walid Jumblatt’s visit to Saudi Arabia by making strenuous and lengthy efforts and contacts in this respect, leading to Jumblatt’s meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

It was revealed that Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz did not wish to welcome Jumblatt during this visit, the purpose of which was solely to break the ice and end the prolonged boycott.

A source close to MP Jumblatt told As-Safir that the mere fact that the visit has taken place is positive and indicative of a fresh start in the relation between Jumblatt and Riyadh. The source stressed that no decision had been made in the first place to meet with the Saudi king. 

With regard to the [upcoming parliamentary] elections, Minister of State for Administrative Development Mohammad Fneish told As-Safir that Hezbollah supports the adoption of proportionality with an enlarged electoral constituency, adding that the party rejects the formation of a neutral cabinet or a cabinet of technocrats.

  • Opening Titles

Sleiman to Ad-Diyar: I will not sign the 8.9 trillion LL decree because it is unconstitutional.

Safadi to Ad-Diyar: Funds are available to pay salaries; slight increase on VAT.

  • Local News

President Michel Sleiman asserted to Ad-Diyar that he will not sign the 8.9 trillion LL decree (regarding expenditures from outside the budget) because it is unconstitutional and can be legally challenged.

President Sleiman said that the Finance and Budget Commission added a number of important remarks to the draft while examining and discussing it. Hence, he cannot possibly overlook its opinion and parliament has to take on its responsibility in this respect.

President Sleiman said that he is currently looking into the means to develop an acceptable and legal solution.

Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi told Ad-Diyar that funds have been secured to pay the salaries and wages of civil servants, adding that today’s discussions aim to find a legal gateway to the matter.

Safadi said that the 2012 budget will be submitted to the Council of Ministers before May 10, including the new raises, especially those pertaining to the rising cost of living. These direct and indirect hikes represent huge amounts estimated at 2,100 billion LL.

Minister Safadi said that the Ministry of Finance is still abiding by the budget deficiency ceiling, which was set at 5,250 billion LL. He went on saying that the increase on the VAT will be extremely trivial. 

General Michel Aoun asserted once again that the president does not have the prerogative allowing him to appoint the president of the Higher Judicial Council, wondering: “Why is President Michel Sleiman insisting on exercising his prerogatives where he does not have any and denying these prerogatives elsewhere?”