BEIRUT: Despite the extension of Parliament's term for a third time, 2017 marked a year of accomplishments for Lebanese lawmakers.
Here are some of Parliament’s most significant highlights for 2017:
FIRST BUDGET IN 12 YEARS
On October 19, Parliament approved the first state budget since 2005 following a three-day marathon session chaired by Speaker Nabih Berri.
The state budget bill passed after 61 MPs voted in favor of the bill. Four MPs voted against while eight abstained.
Lebanon being without a budget for 12 years has led to extra-budgetary spending which resulted in mounting debt. Public debt has almost doubled since the last state budget was drafted, reaching $75 billion in 2017, at an estimated debt to GDP ratio of 157 percent.
Lebanese anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest against newly approved taxes in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
NEW TAXES AND PUBLIC WAGE HIKE
New taxes were introduced by Parliament on October 9 to finance a long due wage increase for civil servants and teachers. The new taxes were first approved in September but were annulled by the constitutional council which referred the tax law back to parliament for amendments.
The approved tax hikes included an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 10 to 11 percent effective in 2018.
People carry Lebanese national flags and chant slogans as they take part in an anti-government protest at Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters Photo/ Mohamed Azakir)
Thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in the past few years to demand the ratification of a new election law and protest the government's failure to hold parliamentary elections since 2009.
A new electoral law based on proportional representation was ratified on June 16 but Parliament’s term was extended for another 11 months. Activists protested the extension, this time hurling eggs at lawmakers’ convoys passing through downtown Beirut as security forces deployed heavily around Parliament. The protests escalated into scuffles between security forces and demonstrators.
This was the third time that lawmakers extended their own tenure. In 2013, lawmakers voted to extend parliament's term by 17 months and then voted again in 2014 to extend their tenure an additional two years and seven months.
Lebanese artist Mireille Honein and Abaad NGO hung wedding dresses from the Beirut seafront to protest Article 522. (AFP Photo/ Patrick Baz)
MARRY THE RAPIST LAW ABOLISHED
“Marry the rapist” law (article 522 of the law), which had been in place since 1940, was finally repealed by the Lebanese parliament on August 16. That accomplishment is a result of years of campaigning by women rights advocates.
Prior to this, the Lebanese law had stated that rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison, or more if the victim is mentally or physically disabled, and article 522 had mentioned that if the rapist marries the victim, criminal prosecution is suspended.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the move by Lebanon's parliament but said more should be done to ensure women's rights including legislation to end child marriage and marital rape, both of which are still legal in Lebanon.
A file photo of a Parliamentary session. (Annahar Photo/ Marwan Assaf)
NEW ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT
Lawmakers approved the creation of the Keserwan-Byblos governorate on August 16, separating both districts from the Mount Lebanon governorate. By doing so, they expanded the country’s governorates to nine.
This is considered a small but significant step in efforts to push for the implementation of administrative decentralization.
Lebanon was previously divided into eight administrative governorates each comprised of one or several districts.
LEBANON TAPS OIL AND GAS WEALTH
Lebanon’s parliament approved on September 19 a law to tax revenues from oil and gas operations. On December 15, the Cabinet approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek, in the country’s much-delayed first oil and gas offshore licensing round. Exploratory drilling is expected to start at the beginning of 2019, according to Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil.
Lebanon’s efforts to develop a hydrocarbons industry has faced many delays, mainly due to political infighting, since the country first discovered potential oil and gas fields in 2009.
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