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'Deal in the works' to break up logjam over Council of the South.

Byline: Daily Star Staff

Summary: The intense debate between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri over allocations for the Council of the South may simmer down amid news that a compromise is being worked out before the next Cabinet meeting on Thursday. An informed source close to Berri's Amal movement told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

BEIRUT: The intense debate between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri over allocations for the Council of the South may simmer down amid news that a compromise is being worked out before the next Cabinet meeting on Thursday. An informed source close to Berri's Amal movement told The Daily Star on Tuesday that there are signs the issue of allocations to the Council of the South may be solved soon.

"There are movements to settle the issue of the allocations. Let's hope a solution is reached soon," the source said.

The Amal movement earlier accused Siniora of trying to bloc the transfer of LL60 billion (close to $40 million) to the Council of the South.

The opposition argued that it was willing to scrap the Council of the South if all bodies such as the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the Higher Relief Council were also eliminated.

Berri proposed the creation of a planning ministry to replace all the funds and councils.

Siniora and the Finance Ministry insisted that any further allocations to the Council of the South could affect the budget deficit which was projected to reach 30 percent in 2009.

There were even hints that Siniora might recommend a higher VAT rate if Amal insisted on allocating LL60 billion to the Council of the South.

Observers feared that the opposition ministers could veto the 2009 draft budget if Siniora refused to allocate LL60 billion to the Council of the South.

Council of the South President Qabalan Qabalan met Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah on Tuesday and submitted a list of projects for the Council of the South.

This move was seen as an attempt by Amal to negate all the excuses cited by Siniora, who claimed that the Council of the South was refusing to show the list of projects that would be implemented in the south this year.

LBC TV said President Michel Sleiman intends to submit a compromise to end the dispute between Berri and Siniora.

It added that if the budget were not approved Thursday the Finance Ministry might be forced to spend money based on the 2008 budget accounts.

The station said that the president wanted the Cabinet to discuss and endorse the 2009 draft budget during the session on Thursday.

Apart from the issue of the Council of the South, most ministers do not have strong reservations about most clauses in the 2009 draft budget.

The 2009 draft budget, which has yet to be approved by the Cabinet and Parliament, projects expenditures at LL15.552 trillion ( close to $10 billion), an increase of 35 percent compared to the 2008 budget and revenues at LL11.1139 trillion, an increase of 33 percent. The budget deficit for 2009 is projected at LL4.413 trillion, or 28.37 percent of spending and 9.41 percent of the country's GDP.

The cost of debt servicing is expected to represent 39 percent of total public spending. - The Daily Star

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Feb 18, 2009
Words:567
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