President Michel Sleiman
Beirut - Arabstoday
President Michel Sleiman refuses to issue a law legalizing the 2011 extra-budgetary spending unless amendments suggested by the Finance and Budget Parliamentary Committee are first introduced to the draft, said a source close to Sleiman Friday.
Sleiman is empowered by article 58 of the Lebanese Constitution to sign the decree if Parliament fails to put the draft law to vote in 40 days after including it on its agenda.
However, the source said the president would not concede to political pressure over the issue, arguing that Sleiman saw a number of amendments as necessary before he issued the decree.
Some argue that Sleiman is only entitled to sign the original draft submitted by Cabinet to Parliament rather than the revised version by the Finance and Budget Parliamentary Committee.
“Let parliamentarians take their responsibilities and come up with a proper solution,” the source added, hinting that the president would instead prefer a settlement between the rival parliamentary coalitions.
Critics say Sleiman is stalling to avoid a clash with the March 14 coalition that has blocked the ratification of the draft law legalizing nearly $6 billion in extra-budgetary spending in 2011.
March 14 lawmakers have tied their support for the draft law to the legalization of $11 billion in extra-budgetary spending under former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government from 2006 to 2009.
The president is scheduled to leave Lebanon Saturday on a week-long official visit to Australia, delaying a solution to the crisis unless the government meets to issue a LL4,900 billion treasury advance as suggested by sources close to Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi.
Safadi has refused to authorize extra expenditures beyond the $6.8 billion cap of the last budget, which was approved by Parliament back in 2005.
In an interview with LBC television station Thursday, Safadi reiterated that government spending has already reached the 2005 cap.
“Legally, we will not be able to pay public salaries by the end of the month,” he said.
March 14 lawmaker Marwan Hamadeh has accused the March 8 coalition of seeking to blackmail the president and March 14 parties in a bid to raise the spending cap rather than passing the budgets including both the $11 billion spending under Siniora’s government and the $6 billion in extra-spending in 2011.
March 8 MPs have rejected such a proposal, arguing that the Finance Ministry should first provide a breakdown of accounts of extra spending under Siniora, whom they accuse of squandering public finances.
The 2012 budget, which the Finance Ministry intends to submit by April, would stand at LL21 trillion while the deficit would reach LL5.3 trillion.
According to the latest figures issued by the Finance Ministry Wednesday, the fiscal deficit up to February 2012 stands at 18.1 percent of spending at LL538 billion. The ministry reported a primary surplus of LL66 billion, a figure excluding debt servicing.