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Open Letter to  Bilal Hamad: President of Beirut’s Municipal Council

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Beirut, 27 August 2015 Open Letter to Mr. Bilal Hamad, President of the Municipal Council of Beirut Dear Mr. Hamad, I am writing to you as a Lebanese citizen and…

Beirut, 27 August 2015

I am writing to you as a Lebanese citizen and taxpayer, and a permanent resident of Beirut.

I did not vote to elect you for the Municipal Council, because of our country’s twisted and sectarian election laws that do not allow us to elect our representatives based on our main area of residence.

Nevertheless I believe it is my right to address you as the only elected municipal representative in the city where I live.

And my main complaint is pretty straightforward: Either you and the municipal council take concrete actions to resolve the waste crisis immediately, or you should resign.

I like many of my fellow Beirut residents, Lebanese or foreigners, am a law-abiding citizen, who pays a lot of taxes to finance your and other civil servants’ salaries and expenses.

In fact I have calculated that as much as 30% of my income is swiped away by taxes (income tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), benzene tax, mobile phone tax, Beirut municipal taxes – which by the way are 50$/month! – etc…).

This comes on top of having to pay two bills for every public service, which in other countries are typically provided by municipalities: 1. I have to buy additional electricity (Beirut municipality doesn’t provide any);

2. I have to buy drinking water in gallons (Beirut municipality doesn’t provide good quality tap water);

3.  I need to have a car to go anywhere (Beirut municipality doesn’t have an efficient public transport system); and the list goes on!

I am not expecting you and your council to solve all of these issues now (although I believe this can be done, look at some other cities in Lebanon!), but the least you can do immediately is to address the trash issue, before this also becomes a public service that we have to pay two or three times more for it to be resolved!

You will tell me that all of this is none of your business, as almost all public services in the city are handled by the central Government.

You will also tell me that the city of Beirut has a peculiar governance structure, where the Government-appointed Beirut Governor shares executive powers with the municipality.

You will also mention that your municipality has a limited budget ($1.5 billion as former minister Charbel Nahas stated), and no space to handle waste treatment, thus the need to find another area in Lebanon to dump our waste on it.

Well Mr. President all of these arguments are invalid.

There is nothing that prevents you from offering public services, even if this were to go against the wishes of the central government.

The city of Zahleh has electricity (24/24 and people there pay only $20 per ton compared to $160 in Beirut) ,

Jbeil has electric cars in the old town,

And Saida has its own freaking waste treatment plant!

Since the beginning of the current crisis several Lebanese municipalities have already engaged in sorting household waste at source and recycling.

If there is a will there is a way, and no one can prevent your Municipal Council from actively engaging in any public service, especially waste management. Go ahead and you will have mine and all of the Beirut residents’ (voters and non-voters) support.

Also don’t tell me there is no money and space. Your municipality has a cash reserve of 1.2 billion USD, 170 times the budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment!

But somehow during your tenure you only found money (and executive powers!) to close down one of Beirut’s last public green spaces (the Dalieh), to install controversial surveillance cameras, and to expropriate land and public parks to build controversial highways (Fouad Boustros Boulevard) and parking lots!

Mr. Hamad you and the Beirut Municipal Council are requested to implement immediately a waste management plan that in my (and many experts’) opinion consists of the following:
1. Implement a city-wide campaign for sorting waste at source, including separation into recyclables, organic, and non-recyclable items. This would immediately reduce the amount of garbage on the streets and engage Beirut residents as partners in the solution. If you want tips on how this is done, please call the municipalities of Roumieh, Bekfaya, Joun, Arsoun, and many others.
2. Upgrade the existing waste treatment plants of Karantina into more efficient ones: Once the amount of garbage is reduced through sorting, the existing plants (which fall under the municipality’s jurisdiction) could be easily turned into more efficient waste treatment facilities, therefore minimizing the amount of trash that has to be dumped. By producing better compost and extracting more recyclables, we can minimize the percent of trash currently going to landfills from 75% to only 15%!

The only solution for the waste crisis is that municipalities take back their executive powers and implement sustainable and responsible solutions. If you and your colleagues at the Beirut Municipality cannot do this, then I invite you all to submit your resignations immediately.


Jad Chaaban
Beirut resident and Lebanese economist

Set of Settlements that are worse than the initial demand

The biggest public mobilization in the history of Lebanon related to salary scale movement of public teachers and many other sections in society was abruptly ratified in the Parliament after 2 years of the political system in Lebanon refused to pass this totally rightful issue.

Former Minister Charbel Nahas is saddened by the results, “An illegitimate authority is liquidating the biggest public mobilization in the history of Lebanon,” he explains. (The Parliament voted for itself to extend its tenure 2 years ago and is getting ready to repeat this infamous practice.

Nahhas questions the timing of the scale’s discussion and the deal behind it.

The recent period had been the calmest in the fight for the wage scale and pressure [on the government] was at its lowest levels. He believes that the political forces want to deal a fatal blow to the Union Coordination Committee after using school diplomas to strike at the union.

Political forces feared popular sentiment, especially within the administration, that gave them the sense of being capable of attaining their rights by pressuring the authorities.

So they decided to go ahead with the scale after completing negotiations on how to make the poor pay for the scale.

Eva Shoufi Published Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lebanon: MPs to strike another blow at the rights of citizens

The Union Coordination Committee holds a protest in from of the VAT building in Beirut. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

Out of the blue, the issue of the salary scale was solved. was solved. Nobody knew what happened, but it later turned out to be one of the darkest deals in the history of Lebanon.

Members of parliament will legislate the encroachment on beach property under the guise of a “settlement,” hence legalizing the occupation of public property.

In addition, the final accounts of the state will be settled for the previous years without any accountability.

The page on “suspicious accounts” will be turned over and a new page will be open without any questioning about public money and public property.

People residing in Lebanon will also have to pay an additional tax on their consumption and numerous fees for services, in addition to dealing with artificial price increases. At the same time, state employees, teachers, contract workers, and pensioners will be denied their rights.

The recent period had been the calmest in the fight for the wage scale and pressure [on the government] was at its lowest levels.

He believes that the political forces want to deal a fatal blow to the Union Coordination Committee after using school diplomas to strike at the union. Political forces feared popular sentiment, especially within the administration, that gave them the sense of being capable of attaining their rights by pressuring the authorities. So they decided to go ahead with the scale after completing negotiations on how to make the poor pay for the scale.

Strangely enough “legislation by necessity” succeeded on two issues. (Mind you that this Parliament failed to elect a President to the Republic that was due 6 months ago)

The first was the consensus between two opposing sides, economic authorities and the unions, that was meant to strike a blow at the rights of employees and “the economy.”

The second issue was the economic authorities admitting that the employees’ demands in the past years were “entitlements” that could not be ensured by the scale.

The question raised by such positions is if the economic bodies and the UCC did not agree on the scale, then what is the use of its announcement with the amendments?

Both sides of the conflict believe they did not achieve any of their goals.

“The deal, magically reached by political forces does not aim to provide the UCC, the workers, or the soldiers their rights. Quite the contrary, the amendments in the new scale bill will strike a blow at the rights of employees, on one hand, and sacrifice the Lebanese economy, on the other,” the economic bodies announced.

They also reiterated their rejection of “tax increases proposed in the scale draft bill” and stressed that “such tax increases will not contribute to solving the crisis but will create a bigger crisis.”

The head of the Lebanese Economic Association, Jad Chaaban, maintains that “raising VAT by 1 percent will impact several basic goods such as petrol and cellular communications, which will be included in the raise, unlike the claims that it will only affect luxury goods.”

Chaaban believes the way the scale will be funded consecrates the principle of funding from people’s pockets. He pointed to “the governments’ dependence on raising indirect taxes instead of direct taxes, which consecrated the principle of funding from poor people’s pockets, since the increase of direct taxes impact those with higher capital.”

The price to be paid by Lebanese will not be limited to the VAT. They will also give up their public beach property through the legalization of violations in one of the biggest scandals that could happen in any country.

According to former head of the Order of Engineers Elie Bsaibes, the first proposal was related to normalizing the encroachment on public beachfront property through paying for previous works. This would have entailed a good yearly income for the treasury.

However, in the current version, they want to take possession of public property and legalize the violations that occurred before 1994, which means most of the violations, a large percentage of which was committed by politicians.

Violations related to the scale go beyond financial issues and deals to strike at the basis of legislation in the Lebanese state.

The government seems to be beleaguered but the political sides are expert at undermining the state and diverting discussion from institutional circles to give it a clientelist character.

Former [Interior] Minister Ziad Baroud is surprised at what happened,

We do not know what happened. Many things changed the day before yesterday, including the exemption of private school teachers from the six grades without knowing why. At the last minute and under the guise of maintaining the consensus, they agreed on the exception.”

The MPs emptied the state from its institutions. The economic and social council, which represents the main space for discussion in the question of the grades and salaries scale, was kept out of the way.

Baroud indicates that this absence was intended to keep the decision in the hands of the political sides so they would agree among each other and safeguard the quota system.

The parliament dealt with the subject in an improvised manner, whether on the level of imports – which are not clear – or on the level of donations to certain segments while excluding other categories.

The contempt of the legislature continues.

The MPs received the draft law on Tuesday afternoon and have less than 24 hours to study a complete bill.

MP Ghassan Moukheiber criticized the short time given to MPs to study the amendments and make their decision. He indicated the issue will be discussed in the session. Moukheiber has reservations on increasing indirect taxes, since it was possible to secure other funding sources. He also stressed his reservations on the question of beach property violations.

Moukheiber may be more familiar with the law than most. However, all indicators are pointing to a farce being prepared in the parliament today, with MPs legislating a crucial law without even spending a day to read it.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.




February 2023

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