BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has agreed to convene the cabinet to discuss the 2022 budget following a meeting with President Michel Aoun on Wednesday.
Mikati said: “We have agreed to sign a decree to open an extraordinary session of Parliament immediately, because the 2022 budget is ready,” noting that he would call for the cabinet to convene “to discuss the budget since it is the most important issue.”
A source close to Mikati told Arab News: “No discussions regarding the attendance of the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement preceded the call for the cabinet to convene.
“The agreement was reached between Aoun and Mikati, and the session will be held to discuss the budget. Ministers can choose to either attend or not.”
The cabinet has not met since Oct. 12, 2021, after the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement decided that they would not be attending any sessions unless Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the probe into the Beirut port blast, was removed.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had accused Bitar of “politicizing the investigation,” but the judiciary ignored requests to dismiss Bitar and Mikati refused to interfere in the work of the judiciary.
Mikati said that he informed Aoun that he will be receiving the 2022 budget within two days, after which it will be crucial to hold a cabinet session for approval.
“I don’t think anyone will fall short on their national duties. It is a prerequisite for the IMF and all reform issues that we are working on,” the prime minister said.
He assured public sector employees and public administrations that “the financial benefits that we had previously promised to deliver will be provided, that is, half a month’s salary for November and half a month’s for December.”
On Wednesday morning, the Lebanese pound hit an all-time low of 30,000 to the dollar. The ration card for needy families has not yet been put into practice, the minimum wage has not increased and chaos prevails in the markets.
Amid these crippling economic crises, Mikati has tried to reassure public sector employees, including the security and military services, in a bid to curb popular resentment and calm the protesters who took to the streets on Tuesday night and blocked several roads across Lebanon.
An IMF delegation is expected to arrive in Lebanon between Jan. 15 and 17 to start official negotiations with the Lebanese government, despite the conflicting plans and figures regarding the financial gap and its distribution.
Meanwhile, as of Tuesday night, over 40 MPs had signed a petition calling for an extraordinary session. Over 70 MPs were expected to sign out of a total of 118.
Elsewhere, after meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora stressed the need for “constitutional institutions to resume their work, as it is not enough to take many financial, economic and administrative measures without a political solution.
“Berri informed me that an extraordinary session will be opened and that the cabinet will convene to approve the 2022 budget. We must stop sabotaging our parliamentary democratic system, and we must straighten out our ties with our Arab brothers and the rest of the world,” Siniora said.
Although Aoun and Mikati do not share perspectives on several complex issues, they both rejected Nasrallah’s violent attack against Saudi Arabia during his speech on Monday.
In this context, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi instructed the Internal Security Forces on Tuesday night to remove offensive banners that were raised in some Hezbollah-affiliated streets in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Meanwhile, Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said: “Peacekeepers working to maintain security and stability in southern Lebanon were attacked on Tuesday night, and their vehicles were sabotaged and official items were stolen.
“The peacekeepers were neither taking pictures nor on private property as some might claim. They were on their way to meet with their counterparts from the Lebanese army for a routine patrol.”
She added: “UNIFIL condemns the attacks against men and women who serve the cause of peace, which violate Lebanese and international law,” denouncing those manipulating the residents of the area to serve their political purposes.
Ardell called on the “Lebanese authorities to open an investigation into the incident and prosecute all those responsible for these crimes.”
Several people had previously attacked a UNIFIL patrol in the southern town of Shaqra, claiming that the troops had entered private property and taken pictures.
Several members of the French patrol were injured as a result and their military vehicles were stomped on and pelted with stones. The Lebanese army had to intervene to secure their safe withdrawal from the town. According to eyewitnesses, the assailants were members of Hezbollah.