Lebanon News

Committee endorses $500 million in infrastructure loans

The Administration and Justice Committee meets to listen to judges involved in the investigation into last month's flooding in Ramlet al-Baida.

BEIRUT: Parliament’s Public Works, Transportation, Energy and Water Committee Tuesday endorsed more than half a billion dollars in loans and grants for infrastructure development projects across Lebanon.

A number of other committees also endorsed legislation related to health care and followed up on ongoing state investigations into public sector hiring and flooding last month in Ramlet al-Baida.

The Public Works, Transportation, Energy and Water Committee endorsed $34 million in loans for wastewater treatment in the Qadisha Valley from the French Development Agency, and $187 million in loans for upgrading main roads in north Lebanon and Kesrouan’s Jeita and Zouk Mosbeh from the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development.

It also endorsed a $295 million loan and $69,800 grant from the World Bank for the Greater Beirut Public Transport Project, which aims to connect Tabarja to Karantina by bus and also create lines within Beirut.

The World Bank has said the public transport system is expected to carry about 300,000 passengers daily and halve the commute time between Beirut and its northern suburbs. It is the first stage of a national public transport program, which in its next phases seeks to connect Beirut to its eastern and southern suburbs.

Meanwhile, the Administration and Justice Committee met to listen to judicial authorities about an ongoing investigation into flooding in Ramlet al-Baida last month. The committee heard from Beirut Investigative Judge Charbel Bou Samra, Military Tribunal Investigative Judge Najat Abu Shakra and Mount Lebanon Appeals Court Judge Rana Akoum. Bou Samra is the lead judge in the case, which is investigating the culprits of the flooding that officials have publicly traded blame for.

Committee Rapporteur MP Nawwaf Musawi told The Daily Star he could not reveal details of the investigation, but said the committee had told Bou Samra “he should not limit his investigation to the low-level people involved.” Eden Bay resort, which lies on the southern end of Ramlet al-Baida, has been accused of causing the flooding by blocking a sewage drain near the hotel with cement. Two engineers employed by the resort were previously arrested and released in connection with the case.

Musawi said the case needed to address questions of negligence on the part of the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the security forces. “We gave [Bou Samra] our full confidence to take all the steps he needs without trepidation, and he promised us he will not buckle to political intervention,” Musawi said.

The National Economy, Trade, Industry and Planning Committee met to hear from Central Inspection Bureau head George Attieh, in an effort to review figures on the number of employees in the public sector. Committee Chair Neemat Frem after the meeting urged public institutions to comply with a CIB investigation into pre-election public sector hiring that contravened an August 2017 hiring ban.

Attieh has previously told The Daily Star that dozens of municipalities had not responded to requests for information on employment, adding he would take punitive action if they did not respond.

Frem also said that Lebanon’s public sector procurement strategy needed revision, and suggested he may propose a draft law creating a single center in charge of procurement.

Separately, the Public Health, Labor and Social Affairs Committee endorsed a law that would set standards for the clinical pharmacy profession in Lebanon. Clinical pharmacists provide patient care that aims to optimize medication usage, a role that in Lebanon is currently left to doctors and nurses who are not specialized in that field.

The law sets out the requirements and specifications needed to practice clinical pharmacology in Lebanon as well as minimum standards, such as ensuring one clinical pharmacist for every 100 hospital beds. Committee Chair MP Assem Araji said after the session that the law would help decrease medicine consumption, which in turn would reduce the health bill on the state.

Araji also called on the government to issue decrees to enact a 2015 food safety law, which he said has remained unimplemented. He said the Healthy Ministry’s recent discovery of a potentially cancerous substance being used in the production of pickled turnips pointed to the need for the law’s implementation.

The chemical dye, Rhodamine B, was found in seven factories that produced pickled turnips, caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani announced Monday.

Parliament’s Media and Communications Committee met to discuss plans for the telecoms sector. The committee is set to continue the discussion in its next session, but published a series of recommendations, including a recommendation that Ogero announce its employment needs at the beginning of 2019 in order to conduct transparent hiring. Sabaa MP Paula Yacoubian previously told The Daily Star that Ogero, which is under the authority of the Telecommunications Ministry, had been one of the public institutions that had seen pre-election hiring.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 19, 2018, on page 2.

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