Lebanon’s 2013 Parliamentary Agenda: The Proof is in the Proposals

2014-01-06    |   

Lebanon’s 2013 Parliamentary Agenda: The Proof is in the Proposals

On August 20, 2013, another Lebanese Parliament session was postponed for the fourth time in a row due to a lack of quorum. The session had an agenda similar to previous ones. An additional item was the draft law on protecting women against domestic violence that was added on July 22, 2013.

Despite the failure of parliament to tackle the laws proposed, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri has described all the items on the agenda as urgent and pressing. An in-depth critical analysis of these items will thus shed light on the legislative activity in Lebanon and the interests that it serves. These interests seem to be largely of the ruling clique rather than those of state interest as vested in the public good. The proposals are aimed at reinforcing the prevalent structures of hierarchy, class and sectarianism to the exclusion of principles of equality and citizenship.

Splitting the Pie of Appointment to Public Office

Some of the laws proposed aim to turn contractual appointments in the public sector into permanent ones without due process. This is the case with law proposals relating to public notaries. Under one law proposal, employees delegated by successive justice ministers to work as full-time public notaries for a period of no less than 3 years are granted the permanent title of public notary, without going through a competitive contest. What these public notaries have in common is the fact that they were selectively chosen over time by successive justice ministers, indicating their likely affiliation to one political faction or the other.

The danger in such a proposal does not only lie in its disregard for the principle of competition, but in the fact that it aims to grant permanent public notary status to individuals who failed the qualifying exams for these posts. In effect, advocates of the proposal have consented to the appointment of individuals who were proven to be unfit for the post but were favored based on political considerations. To add insult to injury, the draft law justifies this approach by arguing that it will save the treasury the expenses of running a new competition. In practice, this means that selecting employees for permanent jobs is preferred to appointing them through competition.

Three other proposals call for adopting certain criteria that would jeopardize the principle of equality in appointing individuals to public offices. Appointments are limited to individuals who had previously been hired by the public administration without competition.

Privileges for Military Personnel: Service for Life?

As with previous years, a certain number of law proposals (4 in this case), which are likely to be approved, seek to give privileges to certain members of the security or military establishments, namely, high-ranking officers.

One of the most prominent proposal is the urgent bill proposal that aims to amend the legal retirement age for officers who command or head one of the military or security agencies. The result is retaining a number of top commanders in office based on a system of quotas among political powers.

Such a proposal does not merely aim to extend the term of commanders who are currently in office, such as army commander Jean Qahwaji. It also seeks to reinstate commanders who had been discharged for reaching the legal retirement age, as is the case with former director general of the Internal Security Forces Ashraf Rifi.

Privileges, Interests and Concerns: The Sectarian Fear Factor

Three types of law proposals fall into the category of promoting sectarian privileges.

First Type: This includes the draft law to amend Article 1 of Law No. 210, dated May 26, 2000. The article states that “each recognized sect in Lebanon and legal persons affiliated thereto shall be exempt from direct and indirect taxes, as well as fees from which public departments are exempt”.

According to its mandating reasons, the amendment aims to place on the same footing 2 types of legal persons as far as tax exemption is concerned. The first are those legal persons who legally and traditionally belonged to a certain sect before the law was issued. The second are those who became recognized as part of a sect after the law was issued and so did not benefit from the exemption.

This amendment will widen the circle of exemption, under the excuse that it seeks to achieve equality among the various sects. For example, Islamic endowment and property management departments are automatically considered part of public institutions once they are established and as such, benefit from the tax and duty exemption irrespective of their founding date. By contrast, and without the proposed amendment, the Christian communities’ endowment and property management departments will only benefit from the exemption if established before the law of year 2000 came into force.


The different legal treatment in terms of tax exemption was not taken advantage of (by the legislator) to expand the number of Islamic and Christian endowment departments that are subject to taxes and fees. On the contrary, the principle of equality among sects was applied in the different direction, namely, to give tax exemption to all religious sects. It is interesting to note that the emphasis was placed on equality among sects, without any consideration for equality among all citizens in shouldering the tax burden, as if the principle of equality applies only to sects.

Second Type: The second set of proposals revolves around concerns of altering the demographic, religious, geographical and political “realities” of certain Lebanese areas, as a result of the transfer of civil registers of a number of citizens from one district to another. This transfer may affect the electoral weights of certain sects in Lebanon.

Accordingly, the urgent bill proposal to amend Article 40 of the relevant 1964 law places restrictions on a citizen’s right to change his/her places of residence. The proposed amendment forbids the transfer of an individual’s civil register within the same province, or from one province to an adjacent one. The only exception is when that individual proves that he or she is moving for permanent residency under certain conditions. For example, the person in question should be an employee, employer or property owner.

Third Type: Proposals of this type address sectarian concerns about the acquisition of real estate in certain Lebanese areas by foreigners of certain religious backgrounds. The urgent bill proposal suggests suspending the law allowing non-Lebanese individuals to acquire rights in immovable property, pending the enactment of a new law.

The draft law proposal came against the backdrop of the sale of “Tallat al-Salib” area in Harissa to former Saudi intelligence chief Muqrin Bin Abd al-Aziz. The sale raised the ire of certain Christian politicians and communities. The sale was seen as an attempt to open the door for changing the “demographics of the area”. The proposed law could thus be rightly considered part of the “entrenchment of the sectarian system”.

Class-Related Privileges Tantamount to Administrative Corruption

The first law proposal in this regard is an urgent bill that aims to amend Article 154 of the new Traffic Law on regulating vehicle registration plates. A debate on the Traffic Law during a parliamentary session on July 2, 2012 showed that some MPs were strongly defending the interests of privilaged individuals (elite groups and political parties) involved in financial corruption. These MPs insisted that such people should keep distinctive plate numbers, even if these plate numbers were obtained illegally or by paying bribes.

According to MP Ali Ammar, there are some individuals who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for these numbers, regardless of the means, or whether they observed any laws or ethics. “They consider acquiring these plate numbers an acquired right. What shall we tell them given they represent prominent elite groups and well-known political families?” Ammar said.

The heated parliamentary debates left the issue of the registration of plates unresolved. However, MP Muhammad Qabbani submitted a law proposal suggesting that all plates be kept by their original owners. The proposal also called for keeping the blue plates for MP vehicles, while it prohibited any discrimination in favor of religious or judicial bodies. Therefore, the MPs seemed to be exerting serious efforts to protect what some of these license plate owners gained by corrupt means.

In the same vein, two law proposals were also submitted to exempt employers from charges incurred due to delay in payment of debts owed to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). This is consistent with the exemptions stipulated in previous legislation.

In 2001, the legislature gave employers discounts on monthly subscription fees.

In 2006, the legislature issued Law No. 753 exempting employers from charges and late payment fees and allowing them to pay back debt in installments. This may cause serious repercussions in the future. It could prompt employers to expect the issuance of laws exempting them from fines periodically, as is the case with other taxes. This will encourage employers to delay the registration of their employees with the NSSF or delay the payment of their monthly subscription fees.

Laws Serving Personal Interests

Some law proposals aim to achieve very narrow personal gains. The most notable of these proposals was one submitted by MP Yasin Jaber. The proposition seeks to grant the competent authority the right to authorize a height allowance of a maximum of 6 meters above the level of easement limits specified in the decree on easement and aviation safety.

The proposal, thus, apparently aims to authorize the competent authority to use discretion and discrimination at will. This is reportedly intended to assist an individual who is close to the abovementioned MP and who wants to raise the level of his building 6 meters higher than adjacent buildings.

Reinstatement of Exceptional Courts


MP Michel Aoun submitted a law proposal to establish a special court, answerable to parliament, to look into financial crimes. He argued that ordinary courts failed to fight corruption. The mandating reasons for the proposal included very telling points. Those reasons stated that “the judiciary has failed to achieve justice despite receiving official reports presented to it. Court of Accounts fines are incurred by employees after a delay of many years and have ceased to be commensurate with the violations. Additionally, the decisions of the Court of Accounts are not final as they can be appealed before the State Council”.

So, instead of seeking to reform judicial bodies, Aoun proposed an easy and populist solution by suggesting the establishment of an alternative court similar to military courts. The proposed court will be linked to the legislative authority and its members will be elected by parliament. The court will adopt summary proceedings in litigation. For instance, court verdicts will not be subject to appeal, and will implement its own house rules and penalties.

MP Aoun submitted the proposal as an urgent bill in conjunction with his Free Patriotic Movement’s publication of a booklet entitled “al-Ibra al-Mustahil” (Impossible Acquittal). The booklet mainly addressed acts of embezzlement and waste of public funds during the Hariri political era. Given the current circumstances in Lebanon, such a proposal to establish special courts would strip the judiciary of certain powers and weaken it, without having any clear political horizon for holding corrupt people accountable.

Considerations of State: Scarce Rights, Declarations Devoid of Impact

Compared with this large number of law proposals that were favorable to granting privileges, few draft proposals were devoted to ensuring actual rights. One of these few proposals was calling for extending maternity leave from 7 weeks in the private sector (in accordance with the Labor Law) and 60 days in the public sector (in accordance with the state employee regulations) to 10 weeks.

The draft law on higher education is another example. The mandating reasons of this law aim to streamline objectives of higher education as well as the mechanisms for the assessment and evaluation of institutions, and the accreditation of certificates, curricula and programs. They also address the rights of teachers and students.

The draft law on higher education also seeks to remove ambiguities related to the status of various higher education institutions and the academic qualifications required of those heading these institutions and those teaching at them. This draft law comes as an institutional response to the mushrooming number of licenses given to open universities.

In contrast, other proposals claiming to stand for key reforms are often devoid of impact or become toothless under the pretext of preserving order. The draft law on the protection of women against domestic violence is one such example.  

Another example is the draft law proposal to guarantee the right to access information. The mandating reasons for this proposal claim are that it aims “to enhance transparency in government, combat corruption, promote liability and accountability, and raise the level of participation of citizens in decision-making, by enabling people to exercise the right to access information and documents in the possession of the government”.

The latter proposal indirectly alluded to a long list of classified documents. They included secrets relating to national defense, national security and public security. They also included documents that may jeopardize the state’s financial and economic interests and harm the value of the national currency, as well as classified information protected by law, such as commercial secrets.

There are fears that expanding the interpretation of relevant terms will practically cause the law, if passed, to go off-track and turn into a law that prevents access to information rather than guarantee accessibility. Some legal experts referred to the Jordanian experience in this regard. It is worth noting that the Administration and Justice Committee added to this list “reports and views of the State Council”. This addition reflected the political elite’s caution about keeping citizens informed on State Council consultations which could contradict the general policy of the Council.

Other Controversial proposals:

— A law proposal that aims to amend certain provisions of the Consumer Protection Law in order to make penalties commensurate with offenses. It is disappointing to observe that public authorities respond to scandals of fraud by submitting law proposals without accompanying them with effective measures against the parties reaping huge profits by committing fraud against citizens. It seems that the state is using the declaration of relevant principles as a cover for its failure to fight fraud and prosecute responsible parties.

— A draft law on rent, which aims to develop a timetable for “freeing” old leases. The committee proposed extending the leases for 9 years (not 6 as stated in the draft law) from the date the law comes into force. During that period, the rent shall rise gradually until it reaches what is called “comparable rent” that is determined consensually or through legal action. By the end of the 9th year, the lease becomes “free”.

This draft law errs by dealing with all tenants equally without taking into account the different needs and possible legitimate expectations that some tenants, such as the elderly, might have. In other words, the state has viewed this complicated issue as a balance between two forces (old owners and old tenants), without crafting a general principle that can be used as a basis for the proposed legislation.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


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