Ratifying the grades and salaries scale is Berri and Aoun's responsibility

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Public workers protest in front of the Parliament on April 9, 2014. Left poster: Left poster: "[They] only come together when it has to do with gaining from us." Right poster: "Are you a representative of the people or are you pretending?" (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Monday, June 9, 2014

The story says that former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora made a short and private visit to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to explain to him, in detail, his perspective on the grades and salaries scale. Siniora is of the belief that the wage hike, as proposed by the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), would be catastrophic for public finances and the national economy. He also denies the existence of any favorable way to secure new funds by adopting a fiscal program that threatens to push away investors.

Berri didn’t reject Siniora’s concerns completely, the story adds, but he indicated that the issue has become a national matter. The parliament speaker asked the former prime minister for a way to bring a majority of lawmakers to reject the grades and salaries scale, as referred [by the previous government], in order for him to help out.

According to the same story, Siniora, head of the Future Movement parliamentary bloc, asserted to Berri that all March 14 Forces, as well as the parliamentary blocs of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Walid Jumblat, agreed with him. He also revealed that MP Michel Aoun promised former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to cooperate and to avoid any confrontation.

For Siniora, the involvement of Berri’s bloc would pave the way to an inclusive national aspect for covering an already disturbed discussion about the demands raised by public sector employees. He pledged that the Future Movement would be at the forefront of this mission.

Berri, Siniora and Aoun neither confirm nor deny the story. Curiously, after these meetings took place, the parliament was crippled which blocked the ratification of the grades and salaries scale. Meanwhile, Hezbollah now seems to be waging this battle alone, only backed by a few independent deputies.

Seeking to avoid broad confrontation whether inside or outside parliament, Hezbollah decided to stand by its position and back the UCC, pledging to continue to raise its voice against those blocking the pay hike, while stressing that it will hold a dialogue with its allies in the March 8 alliance and the Free Patriotic Movement to ratify the grades and salaries scale in a way that serves all parties.

Although these discussions took place a while back, nothing much has changed so far.

As Secretary General of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said a few days ago, parliamentary, political and economic forces opposing the pay hike have been recently intensely attempting to put public employees demanding their rights face to face with regular citizens.

Such a threat is expected to escalate further, amid fears that Education Minister Elias Abu Saab would resort to a “private apparel” to solve the problem raised by the official exams, even though yesterday he strongly rejected [the notion] that what he had in mind would lead to the privatization of these exams.

Granted, the education minister bears the responsibility to ensure that the official exams actually take place, and he ought to find scientific, legal and constitutional means that would lead to holding the exams without undermining the public sector, the country and the rights of citizens.

If he had been acting this way, we wouldn’t have heard voices warning that the minister’s actions will set a precedent which would eventually end the services of public sector teachers in writing, surveilling and correcting the exams, thus raising legitimate fears of privatizing this annual event.

But is the minister’s responsibility and that of the Change and Reform Bloc restricted to holding the exams?

Of course not! Their main responsibility is to acknowledge - and not just through statements and positions - the rights of public sector employees and teachers, and to seek to ratify these rights. In fact, General Aoun’s bloc is aware more than any other party of the focal points of theft and squandering that deprive the state’s treasury from enough returns to develop many sectors.

Hence, the minister’s responsibility is to support the UCC; he ought to stand against all attempts to water down its cause or to besiege it. He is to prohibit disarming it from its legitimate weapons, even if this leads to a crisis, known as the official exams

Meanwhile, everyone knows that the state can afford to postpone the exams till after the World Cup competition. Past experiences have proven that such exams can be prepared, held and corrected in a short period of time, which will no doubt happen if the teachers’ demands are granted.

Therefore, it is not true that holding the exams is more important than the teaches’ demands. If some in the country are willing to continue playing the blackmailing game, then it’s the responsibility of General Aoun’s bloc and Minister Abu Saab to not play along.

On the contrary, the minister is expected to warn about the risks of not approving the grades and salaries scale, not announcing that the state can manage without the teachers and do whatever it pleases, even if the issue concerns the official exams which affect tens of thousands of families.

Such pressure shouldn’t force us to cope with killers and thieves who don’t want to meet the legitimate and rightful demands of the people.

Following Sayyed Nasrallah’s call last Friday, we can honestly say that Speaker Berri and General Aoun bear a big responsibility. If they choose to give priority to the grades and salaries scale, then it would be possible to push others in different parliamentary blocs to cooperate in order to achieve this target.

Today, no other priority should come before the UCC’s rights and demands!

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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