Beirut – Lebanon’s new government passed its first obstacle after approving two decrees concerning oil and gas exploration blocks, as well as assigning a new OGERO Telecom chief, after more than two years of political deadlock.
In its first session after the confidence vote, the new Lebanese government approved the decrees that define the blocks and specify conditions for production and exploration tenders and contracts. Ministers of the Progressive Socialist Party voiced their reservations over the approval of the decrees related to the oil excavation file.
Full details of the model exploration and production agreements have not yet been published.
It seemed that the preapproved positions between political blocs concerning stalled issues led to the swift approval.
Minister of State for Refugees Mouin al-Merehbi didn’t deny that the agreements on all the issues facilitated reaching this result. He also expected other decrees to be approved as easily as this.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the State Minister confirmed that there is nothing hampering the agreement on oil decrees, before referring it to the parliament for the vote.
“I don’t think there is something that would stop the authorization of all delayed matters … We hope others things will run as smoothly as this,” he added.
Merehbi pointed out that both the oil and gas decrees took about two and half hours of discussions, saying that the negotiations were technical and explored the Ministry of Finance’s censorial role.
Despite the government passing the decrees, Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh and Minister of State for Human Rights Ayman Choucair from the Democratic Gathering bloc were the only two ministers in the 30-member Cabinet who voiced their objections.
“We voiced initial reservations over the executive decrees because they failed to recognize the establishment of a national company to represent Lebanon in the agreements with the companies that will be tasked in the explorations and excavation of oil,” said Hamadeh.
“The Cabinet approved the two draft decrees pertaining to the delineation of sea waters falling under the jurisdiction of the Lebanese state into zones in the form of blocks, along with tender documents on the licensing rounds in sea waters and a model agreement on exploration and production,” Information Minister Melhem Riachi told reporters after the four-hour-long meeting.
Riachi said that the Cabinet also endorsed a decree pertaining to determining the expenses of the committee tasked with overseeing applications by Lebanese expatriates to regain Lebanese nationality.
The Cabinet also appointed Imad Kreidieh, 56, replacing Abdel-Moneim Youssef, as new head of Ogero.
Bassel al-Ayoubi has also replaced Youssef as the director-general of investment and maintenance at the Telecoms Ministry. Youssef held both positions.
Addressing the session, PM Saad Hariri proposed the formation of a ministerial committee to set guidelines for the Cabinet’s response during any emergency. The committee comprised of the foreign, health and interior ministers, will remain in contact with the president and the prime minister when the need arises.
President Michel Aoun, who chaired the session at Baabda Palace, started the meeting by denouncing the Istanbul attack on the New Year’s Eve where 39 people, including three Lebanese, were killed by a gunman during a shooting spree claimed by ISIS.
Aoun also hailed the security measures of the New Year’s Eve in maintaining peace and praised the efforts of the security forces in that regard.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil described the government as having done “extraordinary achievements” during its first session. He added: “Three congratulations are in order for Lebanon today: for the oil, telecommunication, and retrieval of nationality decrees.”
Change and Reform bloc MP Nabil Nicolas said on Wednesday: “There is an agreement inside the newly formed government,” adding that there is also a sort of openness among the ministers.