Lebanon: MPs to strike another blow at the rights of citizens

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The Union Coordination Committee holds a protest in from of the VAT building in Beirut. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Eva Shoufi

Published Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Out of the blue, the issue of the salary scale was solved. was solved. Nobody knew what happened, but it later turned out to be one of the darkest deals in the history of Lebanon. Members of parliament will legislate the encroachment on beach property under the guise of a "settlement,” hence legalizing the occupation of public property. In addition, the final accounts of the state will be settled for the previous years without any accountability.

The page on "suspicious accounts" will be turned over and a new page will be open without any questioning about public money and public property. People residing in Lebanon will also have to pay an additional tax on their consumption and numerous fees for services, in addition to dealing with artificial price increases. At the same time, state employees, teachers, contract workers, and pensioners will be denied their rights.

Former Minister Charbel Nahhas is saddened by the results, "An illegitimate authority is liquidating the biggest public mobilization in the history of Lebanon," he explains. Nahhas questions the timing of the scale's discussion and the deal behind it. The recent period had been the calmest in the fight for the wage scale and pressure [on the government] was at its lowest levels. He believes that the political forces want to deal a fatal blow to the Union Coordination Committee after using school diplomas to strike at the union. Political forces feared popular sentiment, especially within the administration, that gave them the sense of being capable of attaining their rights by pressuring the authorities. So they decided to go ahead with the scale after completing negotiations on how to make the poor pay for the scale.

Strangely enough "legislation by necessity" succeeded on two issues. The first was the consensus between two opposing sides, economic authorities and the unions, that was meant to strike a blow at the rights of employees and "the economy." The second issue was the economic authorities admitting that the employees’ demands in the past years were "entitlements" that could not be ensured by the scale.

The question raised by such positions is if the economic bodies and the UCC did not agree on the scale, then what is the use of its announcement with the amendments. Both sides of the conflict believe they did not achieve any of their goals. "The deal, magically reached by political forces does not aim to provide the UCC, the workers, or the soldiers their rights. Quite the contrary, the amendments in the new scale bill will strike a blow at the rights of employees, on one hand, and sacrifice the Lebanese economy, on the other," the economic bodies announced. They also reiterated their rejection of "tax increases proposed in the scale draft bill" and stressed that "such tax increases will not contribute to solving the crisis but will create a bigger crisis."

The head of the Lebanese Economic Association, Jad Chaaban, maintains that "raising VAT by 1 percent will impact several basic goods such as petrol and cellular communications, which will be included in the raise, unlike the claims that it will only affect luxury goods." Chaaban believes the way the scale will be funded consecrates the principle of funding from people's pockets. He pointed to "the governments' dependence on raising indirect taxes instead of direct taxes, which consecrated the principle of funding from poor people's pockets, since the increase of direct taxes impact those with higher capital."

The price to be paid by Lebanese will not be limited to the VAT. They will also give up their public beach property through the legalization of violations in one of the biggest scandals that could happen in any country. According to former head of the Order of Engineers Elie Bsaibes, the first proposal was related to normalizing the encroachment on public beachfront property through paying for previous works. This would have entailed a good yearly income for the treasury. However, in the current version, they want to take possession of public property and legalize the violations that occurred before 1994, which means most of the violations, a large percentage of which was committed by politicians.

Violations related to the scale go beyond financial issues and deals to strike at the basis of legislation in the Lebanese state. The government seems to be beleaguered but the political sides are expert at undermining the state and diverting discussion from institutional circles to give it a clientelist character.

Former [Interior] Minister Ziad Baroud is surprised at what happened, "We do not know what happened. Many things changed the day before yesterday, including the exemption of private school teachers from the six grades without knowing why. At the last minute and under the guise of maintaining the consensus, they agreed on the exception." The MPs emptied the state from its institutions. The economic and social council, which represents the main space for discussion in the question of the grades and salaries scale, was kept out of the way. Baroud indicates that this absence was intended to keep the decision in the hands of the political sides so they would agree among each other and safeguard the quota system. The parliament dealt with the subject in an improvised manner, whether on the level of imports – which are not clear – or on the level of donations to certain segments while excluding other categories.

The contempt of the legislature continues. The MPs received the draft law on Tuesday afternoon and have less than 24 hours to study a complete bill. MP Ghassan Moukheiber criticized the short time given to MPs to study the amendments and make their decision. He indicated the issue will be discussed in the session. Moukheiber has reservations on increasing indirect taxes, since it was possible to secure other funding sources. He also stressed his reservations on the question of beach property violations. Moukheiber may be more familiar with the law than most. However, all indicators are pointing to a farce being prepared in the parliament today, with MPs legislating a crucial law without even spending a day to read it.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

You are media
Ask your counterparts in the British media
They will tell you
Talk to each other man
By the time I am finished you will know Australia better than me.

The UNIONS are today & have always been the THUGS of the BOSSES

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