On Thursday, the caretaker government enacted the state budget for fiscal year 2024 and approved the appointment of a new army chief of staff, General Hassan Audi.
Speaking briefly at the end of the meeting, held at the Grand Serail where army retirees were protesting, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati declared that "the budget for fiscal year 2024 has been enacted, in view of its great importance for the smooth running of state affairs." "It will be enforceable immediately after publication" in the Official Gazette, he added.
It is normally the president who enacts the Finance Act, but the presidency has been vacant since the end of Michel Aoun's term over a year ago. In periods of vacancy, it is therefore the government that exercises the prerogatives of the president. The government could therefore revise the text, as permitted by Article 57 of the Constitution, but did not do so. The budget, which was adopted by Parliament almost two weeks ago after major changes had been made to the text sent by the government, was signed on Monday by the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.
Chief of Staff
Mikati also announced the appointment, outside the agenda, of General Hassan Audi as the army's second-in-command, following his promotion to the rank of Major General. This decision was "necessary today, given the current circumstances in Lebanon," explained the caretaker prime minister.
The appointment was vetoed by the caretaker minister of defense, Maurice Slim, and the Free Patriotic Movement. The FPM, to which Slim is close, rejects any appointments made by a government in charge of current affairs, believing that this prerogative should normally fall to the president. In this context, Slim, like all ministers close to the FPM, boycotts all government meetings. It was therefore in his absence that the appointment of the chief of staff took place.
Reacting to the appointment, Slim denounced a "new violation of the Constitution and the law by the head of government." "We will do what is necessary in response to this violation, in order to protect the military institution from the violations of which it is victim, at a time when it should be kept away from the politics of cake-sharing and political calculations," he asserted in a statement.
The caretaker prime minister also announced an "exceptional" government meeting on Saturday to discuss the issue of pensions for retired military personnel, while the protests of these veterans had been heard around the Serail since the morning.
The caretaker government also referred to the "security and military situation in Lebanon and the Israeli aggression" in southern Lebanon.
This article originally appeared in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.