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Ministers spar over garbage bill, Machnouk hints at old vote order.

Summary: Ministers exchanged accusations over the controversial waste management file Friday as the Kataeb Party released its proposed amendments to the bill and the environment minister hinted at a possible shift in the Cabinet voting method in order to resolve the crisis.

BEIRUT: Ministers exchanged accusations over the controversial waste management file Friday as the Kataeb Party released its proposed amendments to the bill and the environment minister hinted at a possible shift in the Cabinet voting method in order to resolve the crisis.

The Kataeb Party outlined in a press release its proposed amendments to the bill.

The party came up with the suggested changes after meeting with the Council for Development and Reconstruction, several technocrats and representatives from the Environment Ministry.

The party said that the plan currently puts too much power in the hands of companies to decide the location of landfills; they wish to amend this to put this power back in the hands of the government.

The statement said that allowing companies to decide the location of the landfills in each area would put them under the influence of dominant political groups in the respective regions.

The Cabinet failed Thursday to pass the waste management bill that was presented by Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk which proposed a national plan to treat the country's solid waste.

There was a plan to close the controversial Naameh landfill by Jan. 17, but since no alternative option for the waste was presented Machnouk has said the dump may remain open for some months.

His decision is strongly opposed by the Progressive Socialist Party.

Beirut risks being buried in garbage after that date if no deal is reached and the dump is closed.

During the session, Kataeb ministers blocked the passing of the bill.

In its statement Friday, the party said that as it stands, the plan does not allow for competition in the tender of the contract to handle solid waste management which could drive the prices up.

Previously, Kataeb Party ministers also said that the rules for the tender did not stipulate that companies have the required experience to set up incinerators.

Machnouk hit back at the Kataeb Party in an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station during which he said he had already replied to their proposed amendments prior to the Cabinet meeting.

In another interview later in the day with Al-Sharq radio, he said there were divisions within the Kataeb Party on the issue.

"We have noticed that the Kataeb Party position was hesitant due to its internal conflict," he said. "Information Minister Ramzi Joreige and Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi are on one side and Economy Minister Alain hakim is on the other side.

"It was embarrassing for the rest of the ministers."

In other remarks to MTV, Machnouk expected a solution to the isue before Jan. 17.

After Thursday's Cabinet meeting, Machnouk hinted that he may press Prime Minister Tammam Salam to change the current voting system in the Cabinet to push through the vote.

When the presidency became vacant in May, the Cabinet decided that all bills should pass by unanimous approval instead of a two-third vote.

Machnouk, who is close to Salam, suggested he may press the premier to revert to the voting system that would allow bills to pass with the approval of two-thirds of Cabinet's 24 ministers in order to push through his ministry's waste management plan.

Since the Kataeb ministers were the only ones to oppose the bill, reverting to the old system would theoretically allow it pass.

Sources close to the prime minister said that they were currently prioritizing discussions between ministers but they would not rule out the option of switching to the old voting system if discussions proved fruitless.

However, Kataeb Party sources threatened that the group's ministers would resign if the old voting system was adopted again.

Telecommunications Minister Butrous Harb visited Salam Friday, urging him to go revert to the old voting system which would allow his proposed specifications draft to award contracts to mobile phone operators, currently opposed by ministers from Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, to pass, sources told The Daily Star

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Harb warned that the situation had reached a critical point.

"We are in a crisis and we need to put lot of effort into finding a solution," he said. "If the situation stays the same it will lead to a government shutdown, the repercussions of which are very dangerous."

Harb said finding a solution would require communication between all the involved ministers and taking into consideration the issues raised by the Kataeb Party. -- Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jan 10, 2015
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