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October 12, 2020
The Government Monitor No. 17 - Parliament Continues Its Ostrich Policy

 
What’s the Issue at Hand?
On September 30, 2020, members of parliament (MPs) convened at the UNESCO Palace for the first round of back-to-back exceptional legislative sessions. The parliament’s agenda contained 40 proposals, 15 of which had been shelved during the May 28 legislative session.1 One particular proposal—the general amnesty law—was immediately dropped from the agenda after MPs from the Strong Lebanese Bloc (Free Patriotic Movement) and the Independent Center Bloc (Azem Movement) threatened to boycott the session.2 In sum, parliament passed 10 laws:3 Three on international agreements, two on education, two on crimes, one on local governance, one on disaster relief, and one on water resources.
 
The political establishment continues to dismiss the gravity of the problem, as parliament has so far failed to respond with urgency to the overlapping crises the country is facing. In fact, only four of the 10 laws that passed qualify as significant, in that they address urgent matters such as the repercussions of the pandemic, the port explosion, the financial crisis, or corruption.
 
1. Significant Laws that Passed
-   Amending the law against illegal enrichment. One of the amendments widened the scope of the law to encompass high ranking public officials. However, since the members of the National Anti-Corruption Committee have not been appointed yet, the law is still effectively dormant.
-   Protecting and supporting the reconstruction of areas affected by the port explosion.
-   Requesting banks to transfer up to $10,000 at the official exchange rate for students enrolled in universities abroad, exceptionally for the 2020-2021 academic year. The law is only effective for students who have enrolled before 2020.
-   Amending a loan agreement with the World Bank for Reconstruction and Development to ease some of the burden caused by the financial crisis and the pandemic on small farmers.
 
2. Remaining Laws that Passed
-   Admitting students to the freshman class prior to receiving their Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) results.
-   Amending the Water Code Law.4
-   Changing the name of a village.
-   Amending article 47 of the Criminal Procedure Code to safeguard the right of a detainee to seek legal representation during preliminary investigations.
-   Signing a protocol with the European Union regarding the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
-   Signing a joint agreement concerning proper waste disposal of radioactive material.
 
After losing quorum in the evening, the legislative session was cut short and speaker Nabih Berri proceeded to adjourn the next meeting to October 20. The parliament’s agenda had contained other significant laws that were not discussed, raising questions about the grounds on which MPs prioritize certain proposals to put to vote first. It is noteworthy to mention that, while some of the laws mentioned are indeed significant, they only address the symptoms of the crises the country is facing and not their root causes.
 
3. Significant Laws that Were Not Discussed
-   Lifting banking secrecy of all public servants who took office after the 1989 Taif Agreement.
-   Recovering the money transferred outside the country since October 17, 2019.
-   Protecting the country’s hospitals.
-   Allowing debtors to pay back their loans in Lebanese liras.
-   Establishing a temporary unemployment insurance fund.
 
 
Why is this Important?
Elite-level bickering over ministerial portfolios has prevented the formation of a new cabinet within the French-endorsed plan’s timeline. The outcome of the parliament’s September 30 legislative session is just another testament to the dismal performance of the political establishment toward citizens. The country’s future continues to look increasingly gloomy with each passing day lacking serious action by the state.
 
 
Background
With the political establishment reaching a stalemate over the formation of a new government, speaker Nabih Berri called for two legislative sessions on September 30 and October 1—with the latter suspended until October 20. Lebanon continues to face severe financial, economic, and social costs due to the lack of consensus over reforms. With foreign reserves at the Central Bank reaching critical levels and a worsening healthcare crisis, a series of timely responses is beyond vital for securing the welfare of the people.
 
 
1 Legal Agenda. September 30. " ماذا سيناقش البرلماني اللبناني اليوم؟ دليلك إلى جلسة 30 أيلول-1 تشرين الأول 2020."
2 The Daily Star. September 30. “Parliament Fails to Pass Amnesty Law, Session Postponed due to Lack of Quorum.”
3 Two of the 10 laws that passed were not listed in the parliament’s agenda.
4 The law holds a number of shortcomings that are stated here by Legal Agenda: https://twitter.com/Legal_Agenda/status/1311590507550773252





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