Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati was expected to make a major address today concerning the stalemate over the funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was threatening to bring down his government.
Mikati did speak to the media, but it was only to say that he had transferred Lebanon’s share of the funding (around $33 million) earlier this morning. The STL confirmed receipt of the funds, so it seems that Lebanon has dodged another bullet.
As of this moment, here’s what we don’t know:
- We don’t know what kind of deal Mr. Mikati cut with his cabinet partners in order to prevent their resignation;
- We don’t know if funding the STL in exchange for valuable concessions was the hidden agenda of the Aounist bloc and Hizbullah all along, or if they decided on this path as a result of more recent developments (like Jumblatt’s defection, the situation in Syria, etc.);
- We don’t know if a vote will be required in the cabinet or in parliament to “approve” the funding. Apparently, Mikati transferred the money from the premiership’s own budget, so maybe there will be no need for a vote. This strikes me as a very dicey precedent.
A few minutes of Internet research turned up the 2011-2012 budget for the Prime Minister’s office, which is around a billion US dollars per year (click here to see the spreadsheet, to which I’ve added an extra column converting the figures from [thousands of] liras to dollars).
I have no idea how accurate these figures are, or which pot Mr. Mikati pulled the STL funding from. There are line items in there that are extremely vague (see for example #32, which is devoted to “foreign funding” to the tune of one third of a billion dollars). One would have to assume that there are more detailed figures elsewhere.
At any rate, I’m no expert on government budgets, but it seems odd to me that a Prime Minister of a country like Lebanon should have discretionary spending powers on over one billion dollars. The President’s budget, by contrast, is around $11 million, and the budget for the entire Parliament is $45 million. If anyone has more information on this issue, please feel free to leave it in the comment section. In the meantime, I will try to get an answer from Mr. Mikati’s advisors about where the money for the STL is coming from.