The new salary scale vaporises between economic and political interests

Wed, 04/30/2014

After more than two years of revisions, reviews of figures, search for potential sources of income, and assessment of economic implications, as well as commuting between several parliamentary commissions, the proposed new salary scale was finally deferred until after the Presidential elections, at the risk of being buried all together (at least in its currently proposed form). Indeed, the convergence of interests amongst the Change and Reform bloc and the Future movement resulted in a Parliamentary proposal deferring the matter for 15 days, a proposal that was endorsed by the Speaker of the House who pushed the matter until after the Presidential elections.

Indeed, and for a first time for quite a while, economic interests took primacy over political divisions in Lebanon. As a result, political alliances were reconstructed thus leading to an agreement to postpone the discussion of the salary scale and to the formation of a new parliamentary committee to study the proposal, yet again. The parliament proposal was approved by a majority of 66 MPs including March 14 coalition, Change and Reform bloc, and Progressive Socialist Party whilst 27 MPs from March 8 rejected the proposal. The head of the Future movement block, Fouad Siniora, took it upon himself the task of sinking the proposed salary scale project through presenting a scenario of doom and gloom highlighting its potential disastrous impact on financial, economic and monetary stability. According to Siniora, adopting the salary scale in its proposed form, would invariably lead to the slowdown of economic growth, an increase in budget deficit and will further deteriorate the balance of payments. Siniora suggested lowering the overall cost of the new salary scale from LBP 2450 to 1650 billion, which is the original figure set by the government, increasing VAT to 12%, and introducing a number of so-called reform measures stipulated by foreign donors during Paris 3.

To be noted that all business circles, along with the Central Bank and international organisations were fiercely opposed to the new salary scale, while ringing alarm bells on its disastrous implications and stressing that, should the proposal pass, it will have no backing from international monetary and financial institutions.

What was quite remarkable was the sudden change in the position of the Change and Reform Bloc (CRB) and the PSP, who had both initially supported the new salary scale. This was especially noticeable in the case of CRB, since MP, Ibrahim Kanaan, headed the parliamentary commission which submitted the proposal.
The tragi-comedy unfolded in such a way that resulted in blocking the new salary scale, which would have, if endorsed, reinforced the notion of state, of citizenship and social rights.

Meanwhile, the Parliament proceeded to approve a number of files in pipeline in a way that reeked of clientelism even if the issues addressed were, in essence, rightful such as the confirmation of employment of the civil defense volunteers and the daily worker at the Electricite du Liban and endorsing the new law to revise old leases on properties.

However, one alarming development for the future was the decision by Parliament on April 10th to proceed with the privatization of the electricity public services thus allowing the cabinet to issue temporary authorisations to produce electricity.

To conclude, and rather than legislating in the interests of citizen’s rights and in the interest of state consolidation, Parliament opted to defer a vital decision for livelihoods and the economy amidst clear political divergences on social and economic priorities, thus pushing the matter until after the election of the new president, when the new political balance of powers and the orientation of the new presidential mandate will become clearer.