Lebanon News

Civil society involved in oversight of airport expansion

Hariri heads a conference at the Serail in Beirut, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Civil society was involved for the first time in the development of a proposed second terminal for Beirut’s airport at a high-level meeting Monday.

The move was designed to shed light on a hitherto opaque process.

“We weren’t satisfied on the level of transparency previously,” said Dany Haddad, executive director of the Lebanese Transparency Association. He told The Daily Star that civil society would be “involved more and more in [monitoring] the decision-making and would be aware of the stuff that the government will be taking on from now on.”

The lack of insight into future developments at Rafik Hariri International Airport has caused significant frustration in Lebanon, especially given the huge pressure the airport was put under over the summer.

In September, thousands of passengers were stuck at the airport after a technical fault delayed flights.

Several months from now, Haddad said, a new committee should be established, formed of civil society actors such as the LTA, in cooperation with the Higher Council for Privatization, which held Monday’s meeting. Haddad said the new committee would be involved not only in overseeing the airport expansion, but in all projects implemented under the Public-Private Partnership law, which was enacted in September 2017.

“Civil society should be monitoring to understand if the tendering is transparent is it online, does it respect international standards, were the companies selected in a transparent way,” Haddad said, offering a few examples.

Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Privatization Ziad Hayek described Monday’s meet as a “kickoff meeting” of consultants and stakeholders to start organizing work for the second terminal and to launch the project’s preparatory phase, to gauge financial feasibility and carry out the necessary technical and legal studies.

Hayek told The Daily Star that the project has a $500 million budget and will increase airport capacity by 6 million passengers a year, from its existing 6 million, and that a third terminal is ultimately envisioned.

A statement from the office of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who attended the meeting, said the airport will eventually be able to handle 20 million passengers annually.

Passengers hoping for a quick expansion of the airport’s capacity, however, will be disappointed: Contracts to build the new terminal will not be awarded for another 18 months, and it will take around another four years to build after that.

Hariri may be unhappy at the proposed timeline. “We need to move fast,” he told the meeting. “The success of this project is extremely important for Lebanon, not only as an airport but also as a project within CEDRE, within the reforms we want to make and to encourage the private sector to invest.”

Caretaker Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos said current proposals to renovate the existing terminal “will not be sufficient to improve the service of passengers that we aspire to. Therefore, while we are studying how to avoid a repetition of the congestion that we witnessed last summer, I ask [those involved] to speed up what you are doing.”

Those renovations of the airport’s existing facilities will be carried out using $18 million of a $200 million World Bank loan an undertaking that has already been approved by Cabinet. However, no physical expansion of the existing buildings has been planned.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2018, on page 2.




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