The Cabinet approved Wednesday the long-awaited oil and gas decrees and appointed two successors to Abdul Menhem Youssef — the controversial director general of the OGERO telecom authority who was also serving as director general of investment and maintenance at the telecom ministry.
Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, who had served as energy minister in the past, described the approval of the executive decrees for oil and gas excavation as the government’s “first achievement.”
The two ministers of the Progressive Socialist Party voiced reservations over the approval of the decrees and a committee was formed to study the rest of the issues related to the file.
Earlier in the day, some MPs announced after the weekly meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh that “the issue of oil might need further discussions because there are some reservations.”
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil had also told the al-Joumhouria daily that he would raise some remarks about the issue of oil and gas during the session.
The key decrees pave the way for oil and gas extraction off Lebanon’s coast, after more than two years of political deadlock had stymied previous efforts.
The decrees authorize regulators to divide the offshore areas into blocks for drilling and exploration and to issue tenders.
Earlier this decade, geologists discovered a bonanza of gas reserves off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel, sparking a frenzy of development on the Israeli side to tap into the fields.
Lebanon’s successive governments, beset by infighting and corruption, made only marginal progress toward that goal.
A portion of the reserves lies in territory disputed by the two countries.
Hizbullah has repeatedly warned Israel against tapping into Lebanon’s gas reserves.
Separately, the Cabinet appointed Imad Kreidieh to replace Youssef as OGERO chief and Bassel al-Ayyoubi to replace Youssef as director general of investment and maintenance at the telecom ministry.
The council of ministers also agreed to pay the fees of a specialized committee looking into the issue of naturalizing emigrants of Lebanese origin as it postponed an agenda item related to the department of mechanical inspection of vehicles.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri will head a ministerial committee tasked with studying the issue of mechanical inspection tenders.
This was the Cabinet’s first session after winning a vote of confidence in parliament.
It had 24 items on its agenda, most of which were contentious issues that Tammam Salam’s government had failed to resolve.
At the opening of the meeting, the council of ministers observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Istanbul terror attack that killed 39 individuals, including three Lebanese, and wounded many.
President Michel Aoun commenced the session by denouncing the Istanbul attack and hailing the efforts exerted by the Lebanese government to repatriate the Lebanese victims from Turkey.
Aoun also hailed the security measures taken during New Year’s Eve to maintain peace and praised the efforts of the security forces in that regard.
Hariri suggested the formation of a ministerial committee for emergency situations that would stay in touch with the President and Prime Minister to follow up on the procedures that could be taken.
Al-Joumhouria daily had reported that the conferees would discuss a new electoral law, amid speculation that the term of the current parliament might be extended for technical reasons until September, when preparations for holding elections based on a new law would be complete, added the daily.
Aoun’s visit to Saudi Arabia next week was one of the items on the agenda.