WED 8 - 7 - 2020
Date: May 29, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Parliament fails to approve draft general amnesty bill
BEIRUT: Parliament Thursday failed to approve a draft general amnesty law that has been anxiously awaited by Lebanese families of thousands of convicted prisoners.

Speaker Nabih Berri held consultations with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil in an attempt to reach an agreement on the amnesty bill, following opposition from the main Christian parties.

Berri in the meeting was quoted as saying, “Let’s put the amnesty law aside.”

The Future Movement MPs left Parliament while the second session of the day was still on.

Parliament had convened for a session at the UNESCO Palace earlier in the day to discuss a 37-item agenda that included the controversial general amnesty draft law, but intransigence among the main political parties over what categories of crime should be included in the amnesty made the law highly divisive and unlikely to pass.

“Further consultations will be held and an effort will be made to reach a better amnesty law that will serve the largest number of prisoners,” said Hezbollah MP Ibrahim Moussawi after the evening session.

Moussawi insisted that the amnesty bill was not dead despite differences among parliamentary blocs.

The Future Movement’s bloc has been pushing for it to include some Islamist detainees it says have been detained unfairly under the pretext of terrorism. The country’s three main Christian blocs, however, have staunchly opposed previous drafts that they contend were too broad and would pardon prisoners linked to terror attacks against Lebanese security forces. Future Movement MP Roula Tabsh said before Thursday’s legislative session that the current law would not pardon anyone who attacked security forces.

Some Lebanese Christian parties, including the Free Patriotic Movement, have been pushing for the amnesty to pardon the crime of gaining Israeli citizenship. This would apply to people who gained that status after fleeing to Israel following the liberation of south Lebanon in 2000. Hezbollah and the Amal Movement reject this proposal, branding these people as “Israeli agents.”

These latter two parties are eager for any amnesty to include people convicted of drug cultivation and trade, particularly in the Baalbeck-Hermel region. Lebanese Forces MPs have opposed this.

"The amnesty law does justice to many of the oppressed ... and some are trying to portray the issue as an amnesty for criminals, and this is not accurate,” former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a televised interview during the session.

Speaking to local media before the legislative session Free Patriotic Movement MP Simon Abi Ramia dismissed the amnesty law as based on sectarian quotas.

Thursday’s meeting marks the first general Parliament session in over a month, with protesters gathered in front of UNESCO Palace in rejection of the draft amnesty law that MPs are set to vote on.

The return of squandered public money has been a prime demand of thousands of protesters who took the streets in October of last year during mass demonstrations against the entire ruling class.

More than half of Lebanon’s population is falling below the poverty line, as a government-imposed lockdown against coronavirus – which is being eased through a five-stage plan – further exacerbates the country’s collapsing economy.

Parliament successfully passed a bill that will create a LL1.2 trillion emergency fund to support a social safety net strained by 10 weeks of coronavirus lockdown.

The law, proposed by the government, aims to cover the cost of the additional burden stemming from the lockdown, providing aid to low-income families, daily workers in the public sector, supporting the health sectors and farmers and giving small industrial enterprises subsidized loans.

Lawmakers also approved a law on lifting banking secrecy, which grants exclusive powers to the National Anti-corruption Commission and the Special Investigation Commission to investigate the bank accounts of those who deal with public funds such as MPs and ministers.

In another important step toward fighting corruption, Parliament endorsed the draft law on setting a mechanism for Grade One appointments in public administration, which would eliminate the ability of ministers to appoint civil servants. The Free Patriotic Movement opposed the law, calling it unconstitutional.

However, an anticipated bill legalizing capital controls in Lebanon that aims to block capital flight from the country, which is suffering from an acute US dollar shortage, was set to be discussed by legislators but the evening session ended before the bill was brought forward.

The draft capital control law was not expected to pass at Thursday’s session, with MP Yassine Jaber, who sits on Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee, saying Wednesday that several parts needed further “deep study and redrafting.”

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