The president’s exceptional decree: Millions of dollars for his hometown

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Lebanese President Michel Sleiman (L) speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry following the joint Meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, on March 5, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Pool / Kevin Lamarque)

By: Mouhamad Wehbe

Published Friday, March 7, 2014

Exceptional decrees by the executive post are spending the public’s money without any oversight.

Days before forming the new government, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman signed an exceptional decree transferring US$ 16 million from the reserve budget for emergency expenses to the budget of the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) to implement the first phase of four projects in his hometown of Amchit and the surrounding towns. The decree reveals that the president is combining necessary expenses with projects that do not have funds allocated in the draft budget.

Lebanon has not had a formal budget since 2005. Nine years of spending have transpired in violation of the constitution and due process. During this period, the public treasury was subject to violations that serve politicians and their projects, allowing those holding power to control public spending and evade any oversight.

The first violation was in 2007 when the cabinet issued a decision to adopt the draft general budget before it passed in parliament following proper procedure which requires the ratification of the closing of accounts for the previous year.

The second violation consisted of inventing treasury borrowing, which allows spending without funds and is also based on draft budgets and not approved budgets.

The third violation, which is exceptional decrees, was worse. The decrees turned into a tool for political spending in the hands of the president, prime minister, and any ministers involved. “Exceptional decrees approved through a letter from the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers” were frequently used during the term of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s caretaker government, becoming a shameless tool to spend public money without any oversight. The decrees were issued based on the approval of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, then the president would sign and issue them. Everyone involved has tried to cover up their tracks but each violation resulted in disregarding the constitution and breaking the law even further, leaving a gaping hole in government spending.

The biggest violation however is exceptional decree 11103 issued by the presidency days before the formation of the new government. The decree’s exceptional nature should derive from necessity and national interest based on the principle of the “upkeep of public facilities,” a principle that limits spending to what is strictly necessary. It is noteworthy however that the aforementioned decree allocated funds from the public treasury to spend on new projects, not the upkeep of any public facility. The $16 million were allocated for a group of projects that will be implemented in Amchit, Mayfouk, Lasa, and Qartaba, which is the town from which the president hails from and its surrounding area.

The decree issued from the Baabda presidential palace on January 24, 2014 was signed by Suleiman, former Prime Minister Mikati and Finance Minister Mohammed Safadi. It was based on the “requisites of public interest,” the principle of the “upkeep of regular and steady work in public facilities” and the “exceptional approval given in accordance with the letter of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers No. 176.”

According to the decree, 24 billion Lebanese liras (LL) were transferred from the reserve of emergency and exceptional spending in the 2014 draft budget (there is no 2014 budget, only a draft budget) to the Council for Development and Reconstruction on the basis of a temporary authorization allowing the government to spend monthly one-twelfth of the last approved budget to implement the “first phase of the Mayfouk hospital project, new public schools in Amchit and Lasa, and a new road between Bir al-Haith and Qartaba in the Jbeil district.” Article two of the decree stipulates that it will later be presented before the cabinet for approval.

Compared to another exceptional decree issued during the same period, the difference between what is necessary under extraordinary circumstances and what is not becomes clear.

On January 30, 2014, decree No. 11130 was issued based on the “requisites of public interest” and the “upkeep of public utilities” to transfer an amount of LL 89 million (US$ 59,116) from the budget’s reserve of emergency and exceptional spending to the Higher Disciplinary Committee’s budget to pay items that have determined funds such as the work of administrative oversight, consumer goods, fuel and oil for heating, administrative materials, transportation expenses, water and electricity bills, maintenance, advertisements, mail, and equipment.

The difference between the two decrees is that the first was meant for new projects that are not necessary and public facilities can be maintained with or without them if the decree is postponed until a government is formed that can authorize it. It should be noted that these projects have no funds in the public budget. The amounts were transferred directly to the CDR to be implemented immediately. The second decree transfers specific amounts of money because of the public administration’s needs. The administration can not continue to perform its duties without administrative materials, fuel, water and electricity.

The difference between what is and what is not necessary is contained in circular 2013/10 (issued by the prime minister on April 19, 2013), which indicates what falls within the scope of caretaking based on article 64 of the constitution, “are the decisions, that if not taken will result in a complete vacuum or a complete halt to the work of the executive authority in accordance with the interests of the state.”

Another issue that falls within the scope of caretaking is “funding work justified by necessity and extraordinary circumstances, ensuring public order, the states’ internal and external security, and decisions that are likely to become invalid if they are not taken within a period determined by the law.” He adds: “Every administrative action or decision that goes beyond what has been stated and steps over its limits is considered null and void for violating the law with consequent responsibilities on all levels.”

According to a study conducted by the chairman of the finance and budget parliamentary committee, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, “the greatest violation is that ministers were asked to present certain decisions taken during the caretaking phase to the cabinet to obtain exceptional approval from the president and the prime minister.”

The study asks: “Based on what constitutional or legal text were the president and prime minister given the power to authorize exceptional approval? Knowing that article 53 of the constitution explicitly prohibits the president from voting on cabinet decisions and the president is only the first among equals in the cabinet’s decision-making process to the extent that his voice does not even count in the case of a split vote in the cabinet. According to what constitutional or legal text is the executive authority limited to the president and prime minister?”

The answer is clear and it lies in the content of decree 11103 which was signed a few days before forming the government, i.e., when everyone was aware that the governmental crisis was about to be solved. In other words, spending public funds this way raises many legitimate questions, especially that the area that benefited from it is the president’s hometown where it is rumored that his son will run for a seat in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


In this case there shouldn't be a repeat president from the same area.

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