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Lebanon’s caretaker cabinet approved financing for education, telecoms and an infrastructure survey while omitting discussions of a possible extension of the General Security Chief’s mandate, two days before the slated end of his term. Caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari said an extension to General Security head Abbas Ibrahim’s term is the Interior Ministry’s responsibility, while caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati had earlier punted the issue to Parliament. A prolongation to Ibrahim’s term, which ends on March 2, is hampered by the age of mandatory retirement for civil servants and the presidential vacuum. Meanwhile, cabinet authorized a line of credit covering the salaries of state-owned telecoms provider Ogero employees, who have repeatedly protested inadequate compensation and unpaid wages. Makari announced 60 upcoming appointments to the faculty of the Lebanese University, Lebanon’s sole public university. Caretaker Education Minister Abbas Halabi expressed hope that the government’s approval of increased transportation allowances, compensating educators for five liters of gasoline per working day, would resolve an open-ended public teachers’ strike launched on Jan. 9 — adding that he has a plan to make up for missed school days. A “crisis cell at the Finance Ministry has been formed” to address amended transportation allowances for other public sector employees, including army and security personnel, Makari said, after the item was bumped from cabinet’s agenda. The government also approved funding for municipalities to conduct inspection work on infrastructure damaged by the Feb. 6 earthquake.
The Lebanese Army rescued an abducted man in the Bekaa Valley after a shootout that killed one suspected kidnapper and injured a soldier as well as an alleged abductor. The army arrested three people after conducting raids in the village of Brital during their search for Michel Makhoul after he had been abducted on Sunday. “The army conducted raids to pressure the kidnappers, who then abandoned Makhoul in the town of Taybeh, where he was found by the military,” a security source told L’Orient Today. The Lebanese Army freed two teenagers in January after they had been kidnapped in the Bekaa on their way home from school in October and held for ransom. Internal Security Forces on Sunday found the body of Sunni Sheikh Ahmad Rifai, a vocal critic of Hezbollah who had been missing for a week in Akkar, northern Lebanon, attributing his kidnapping and murder to a family dispute.
Thieves “stole the server on which photos of events since 1961 are stored, as well as five computers from the archive room” of Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA), caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari announced. “The employees were surprised [Monday] morning to find the door of the room forced open,” Makari added, describing the plundering as “a crime against the nation.” The NNA’s headquarters, inside the Information Ministry in the Hamra district of Beirut, is the latest state institution pilfered amid the third year of economic crisis. Thieves have previously swiped batteries and equipment from telecoms and electricity stations, along with electricity cables from utility poles.
The lira fell to yet another record low on the parallel market, trading above LL85,000 to the dollar Tuesday morning. The parallel market exchange had risen again Monday, after having stabilized around LL80,000 per dollar for the past two weeks after surging from LL60,000 at the start of the month. Experts tempered the parallel market rate volatility, explaining that due to the magnitude of the lira’s depreciation, each additional depreciation represents a smaller percentage of value lost. Other factors behind the lira’s drop include political instability, stalled reforms, a reduced number of active money exchangers along with a hiatus on Sayrafa operations — facilitated by central bank Circular No. 161 which allows depositors to purchase dollars at a lower exchange rate. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati claimed last Tuesday that he expects the lira to trade at LL30,000 to the dollar on the parallel market if Parliament manages to elect a new president and end the executive vacancy in the country.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read article from yesterday: “Swiss regulator investigates 12 banks in Lebanese central bank corruption case”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz