BEIRUT — Parliament made watershed — if belated — decisions during a legislative session Monday, including lifting banking secrecy on public accounts and criminalizing sexual harassment.
The session, however, came to a premature end when quorum was lost barely halfway through the ambitious, 68-item agenda.
Prior to losing quorum, MPs voted in favor of lifting banking secrecy on public accounts for one year — removing the primary obstacle to forensic audits of state institutions, including Banque du Liban.
A forensic audit of the central bank fell apart last month when auditor Alvarez & Marsal quit following BDL Gov. Riad Salameh’s refusal to hand over documents. Salameh had said banking secrecy prevented him from fully cooperating with the audit.
A forensic audit of the central bank is needed to determine culpability for the country’s catastrophic financial collapse.
Following Parliament’s Monday session, caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm said that “all pretexts have now fallen and BDL must deliver to the Finance Ministry all the required documents,” adding that the Finance Ministry should revive the contract with the auditing firm.
“We are in a race against time to prevent collapse,” she said.
Parliament also passed laws beefing up domestic abuse protections and criminalizing sexual harassment, including in the workplace and public spaces.
“Sexual harassment is an offense but many were getting away with it; we just established it as a new criminal offense and defined it,” said MP Inaya Ezzeddine (Amal/Sur), the chair of the Women and Children’s Committee.
The harassment can occur through “signs, words, physical actions and even through electronic means,” she said. “This law contributes to achieving justice within the family, in the workplace and in the public space.”
Ezzeddine told L’Orient Today that both laws cover all groups, “since they affect both genders, domestic workers and kids. But most victims are girls and women.”
“This law is one of a basket of laws that the committee has been working on for a long time in order to protect and empower women,” she added.
Parliament also passed a law to “protect the NSSF’s money,” as the National Social Security Fund is facing major financial difficulties. The fund’s shortfalls are mostly caused by the government’s non-settlement of dues, amounting to LL4.7 trillion.
MPs also passed a law to exempt taxis, public transportation vehicles and rental cars from the annual mechanic fees for 2020 and 2021. MP Ali Hassan Khalil (Amal/Marjayoun-Hasbaya) proposed a gradual tariff on prestige plates for private cars, and on vehicles depending on the year of production. Parliament approved his proposal.
An extension of Électricité de Zahlé’s operation was also formalized during the session. The contract was set to end on Dec. 31, but political blocs had come to a compromise last week for a two-year extension.
Not all MPs were satisfied with Parliament’s work Monday. Parliamentarians were “acting as if we aren’t witnessing a crisis,” complained MP Bilal Abdallah (PSP/Chouf).
Lawmakers refused his party’s proposals to grant LL500 billion to protect the health care sector, to set up an unemployment fund to support those who recently lost their jobs, and rationalize subsidies on medicine.
He claimed that “there is no sympathy” with the people in Parliament’s decision making process.