WED 8 - 7 - 2020
May 29, 2020
The Daily Star
Lebanon: Cabinet to meet amid tension over power plant row
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Cabinet is set to meet Friday to approve some key administrative appointments amid tensions over the building of a power plant in northern Lebanon that had been voted down by ministers in a previous session.
The Cabinet session, to be chaired by President Michel Aoun at 2 p.m. at Baabda Palace, will endorse a series of appointments, an official source told The Daily Star Thursday.
These include: the appointment of a new governor of Beirut to replace Ziad Shabib, whose term expired earlier this month; a new head of the Civil Service Council; a director general of the Economy and Trade Ministry; and a director general of investment at the Energy Ministry, the source said.
Local media said Judge Marwan Abboud, who is backed by the Free Patriotic Movement, is tipped to be named new governor of Beirut.
However, the source ruled out the possibility of ministers acting on long-awaited financial and banking appointments in the Central Bank “due to the lack of consensus among the main parties in the Cabinet.”
The appointments, which include 13 key posts in Banque du Liban, the Banking Control Commission and the Financial Markets Commission, have been stalled since last month after Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh threatened to withdraw his two ministers from the Cabinet if two candidates proposed by his party were not included in the planned BDL postings.
The BDL positions include the appointments of four deputy governors to Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh, after the terms of the current deputies expired in March last year. They also include the appointments of five members of the BCC, as well as three members of the FMC and the government commissioner at the BDL
The BDL appointments, which include 13 key posts in the Central Bank, the BCC and the FMC, are deemed crucial as Lebanon has begun tough negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a financial aid program to help the debt-ridden country out of its financial malaise. Salameh and other BDL officials are participating along with Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni in the negotiations with the IMF through video conference.
The BDL appointments have come under fire by former premiers Saad Hariri, Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam and other politicians, who argued that the appointments are based on the sharing of political spoils by the main parties making up the government: The FPM, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and their allies.
The Cabinet agenda includes a request from the Foreign Ministry to extend for one year the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, which expires on Aug. 31, the official source said.
From outside the agenda, Aoun is expected to use his constitutional powers to ask the Cabinet to reconsider its decision to postpone the building of a power plant in the village of Selaata on the northern coast to provide electricity to the Electricite du Liban grid after giving the go-ahead for the building of two other power plants.
Aoun’s insistence for the Cabinet to reconsider its decision on the Selaata plant is bound to cause tensions between the president and the prime minister as well as a clash between ministers who oppose the Selaata plant and those who support it, a political source said.
Furthermore, the Selaata plant issue is likely to revive a long-simmering row over the president’s constitutional powers to send back to the Cabinet any decision or decree he might not approve, the source said.
However, the official source said the Selaata plant row would be resolved during the Cabinet session by commitment to an electricity plan adopted by Hariri’s government that called for the building of three power plants in Zahrani, Deir Ammar and Selaata.
The Selaata episode coincided with a warning by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian against infringing on the prime minister’s powers.
“We do not accept violations of the Constitution, neither the marginalization of the premiership, nor the encroachment on the prime minister’s powers. This is not only because it ignores the hierarchy of the Constitution’s institutions and the rights of one sect ... but also because it creates a political crisis that is at the root of the major collapse from which Lebanon is suffering,” Derian said in a sermon on Eid al-Fitr Sunday at the Mohammad al-Amine Mosque which was attended by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
During its session chaired by Diab at the Grand Serail on May 14, the Cabinet, as part of its plan to resolve the long-running electricity problem, approved the Energy and Water Ministry’s request to negotiate understandings with companies interested in building power plants in Lebanon.
Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad said the plan’s first phase calls for building an electricity plant in Zahrani in the south and the second phase for constructing a power plant in Deir Ammar in the north. Asked about the Selaata plant, she said this project would come at a later stage.
All ministers excvept for those from the FPM supported the Zahrani and Deir Ammar plants while they voted down the Selaata plant proposal.
FPM leader Gebran Bassil, whose party has held the Energy Ministry for more than 12 years, has for long been pushing for the building of a power plant in Selaata.
Bassil, who heads the largest bloc in Parliament, was reported to have been extremely annoyed by the Cabinet decision to shelve the Selaata plant, prompting him to seek help from his father-in-law, Aoun.
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