Lebanon’s Cabinet Portfolios: Sharing the Spoils

Lebanon’s Cabinet Portfolios: Sharing the Spoils

Saturday, 20 October, 2018 - 09:15
An undated cabinet session. Asharq Al-Awsat
Beirut - Nazeer Rida
A classification of cabinet seats as “sovereign,” “weighty,” “services,” or “state” ministries is nonexistent in Lebanon’s constitution. Yet, politicians have somehow made it a norm in the formation of past governments.

Some believe this to be part of Lebanon’s “consensual democracy” that allows for power-sharing among different sects and political parties, and stops the marginalization of any side.

However, experts, who had taken part in the discussions that led to the Taef Agreement in 1989, agree that such categorization causes a “structural deficiency.”

Former MP and Minister Edmond Rizk told Ashraq Al-Awsat that “real partnership comes through a unified project and a sense of responsibility because the country is in a deteriorating situation at a time when they (politicians) are after shares” in the new government.

In a 30-member cabinet led by a Sunni Prime Minister, there are four “sovereign” portfolios and six “weighty” ministries. There are also 11 “services” ministries and eight state ministers.

“Services” portfolios

The dispute among the different political parties on the “services” ministries lies in their importance in providing services to the electorates, experts say.

The portfolios include the social affairs, information, tourism, environment, economy and trade, labor, culture, agriculture, industry, youth and sports and displaced ministries.

The level of their importance is directly linked to the budget provided to them by the state.

Despite the rivalry on which party would get what, “Lebanese law does not prefer one ministry over the other,” said constitutional law professor Rabih Qais.

Before the Taef Accord was adopted in 1989, there was no classification of ministries and no sectarian monopoly on portfolios, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“This is a political categorization that does not reflect the spirit of the Taef (Agreement) or the Constitution, which only calls for equal power-sharing between Muslims and Christians and says the president should be a Maronite, the Speaker a Shiite and the Prime Minister a Sunni,” said Qais.

Rizk agrees with him, stressing that when the Taef Accord was negotiated, Lebanese officials agreed to have national consensus and did not base national partnership on sectarian-political shares.

He described the classification concept as “illegal, immoral and non-democratic,” saying it is “alien to the Constitution and creates a structural deficiency… turning power into a spoil.”

“We should abide by Article 95 of the Constitution, in which we created the basis for citizenship,” Rizk told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The only criterion for jobs is competency, he stressed.

“Sovereign” and “weighty” portfolios

“Sovereign” portfolios (defense, interior, finance and foreign ministries) are divided among the country’s main confessions – Shiites, Sunnis, Maronite Christians and Greek Orthodox.

Although a concept of rotation among the four sects was adopted following the Taef Accord, Speaker Nabih Berri has been holding onto the Finance Ministry since the government of ex-PM Tammam Salam in 2013.

The six “weighty” portfolios (public works and transportation, energy and water resources, telecommunications, health, justice and education) are divided equally among Muslims and Christians (one for Sunnis, another for Shiites, one for the Druze sect, one for Maronites, another for the Greek Orthodox, and finally one for Catholics or Armenian Orthodox.

As for “state” ministers, they have limited roles in the 30-member cabinet.

Obstacles and negotiations

Given the complexity of the situation, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has faced a myriad of demands and obstacles, and has been involved in months of negotiations between the different sides to come up with a consensual line-up, which he is expected to announce soon.

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