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Garbage piled up in Karantina. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Lebanon: Questions About Trash Export Deal

THE LEVANT NEWS — BY Philip Issa for The Daily Star –BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement has promised to raise sharp questions about exporting trash at Monday’s Cabinet session, where the 5-month-old trash crisis will be the only item on the agenda. Ministers will consider a decision to authorize exports, but the terms of the draft have not yet been shared.

“We have not seen anything yet,” Education Minister Elias Bou Saab of the FPM told The Daily Star. “We are looking for transparency. We are going to ask [the decision’s authors] a lot of questions.”

Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb has said he would not divulge any details to the media until the conclusion of the Cabinet meeting. He has only said price rumors, hovering around $250 per ton to export, are “inaccurate.”

Bou Saab signaled this figure could be too big to swallow. “Everyone wants to find a solution, but at the same time, we won’t accept any solution that is going to be more damaging to the public money, or waste money, or increase fees,” he said.

In its evening newscast, MTV quoted Chehayeb as saying that that the price of inaction would be the greatest of all. “Whatever the cost is [of exporting], it is less than the cost of leaving the trash here.”

Residents and municipalities have struggled to cope since normal collection services halted in July, with many resorting to lighting trash fires to reduce volumes. It has caused carcinogenic pollution levels in the atmosphere to leap 416 times, compared to the measurements made in Lebanon’s worst industrial areas last year. Health and water sanitation officials have warned that the waste is introducing microbes into restaurants and homes and leaching pollutants into groundwater.

MTV reported that the FPM will ask to know the price breakdown for exporting, and the companies that have been recruited for the procedure. FPM ministers will also ask Chehayeb and Salam, who has seen the terms, how the prime minister’s office picked companies without first issuing a public tender. The ministers will also ask to know how the Treasury will finance exports, and specifically whether the funds will come out of the budgets for municipalities.

Rumors began circulating over the weekend that the ministers could vote to impose a LL3,000 surcharge at the gas pump, but these could not be confirmed. And municipalities are still waiting for an $800 million disbursement of back pay from the Treasury, Burj Hammoud Municipality Mayor Antranik Meserlian confirmed to The Daily Star.

The FPM said it was not prepared to take a position on the export decree. “We cannot support anything we have not seen,” Bou Saab said.

Salam will likely look for unanimous consent among ministers to pass the decree, considering his government’s frailty. The FPM, which on several occasions has demanded the Cabinet consider security appointments as a precondition to other discussions, said it would not stand in the way of Salam’s agenda Monday.

“What is on the agenda is the prime minister’s decision,” Bou Saab said. “We have no other items to discuss.”

Source: The Daily Star

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