BEIRUT: Caretaker Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi accused caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi of withholding funds necessary for carrying out public work, including preparations for the winter season.
Safadi quickly responded to Aridi, saying the minister's allegations were baseless.
In comments to local televisions, Safadi rebuffed Aridi’s accusations and said the campaign against him is “political par excellence.”
Aridi said that Safadi has refused to approve the transport ministry’s funds in order to pressure Aridi to approve an illegal construction violation by the finance minister.
“Safadi said that he will not sign any transactions related to my ministry unless I sign the transaction for the violation he committed,” said Aridi in a televised press conference.
Aridi added that his ministry has so far been allocated only around LL3 billion despite its request for LL61 billion.
He also said that he had asked the cabinet for the renewal of contracts with private companies to deal with flooding on the streets but that Safadi objected such a request during a government session in light of embezzlements that amounts to LL2 billion in the public works ministry.
“At that point, I asked Safadi if he was the thief or if he was covering up [for the thieves],” Aridi said.
He also noted that when he was appointed as the transport minister, Safadi warned him of the thieves in the ministry.
Aridi said that the ministry’s fund shortage is what hampered the implementation of the necessary measures to prepare Lebanon for the winter season.
He explained that one of the projects that needed funding was the cleaning of sewers ahead of the winter season.
Lebanon’s roads flooded last week due to heavy rains, most notably at the Lebanese University in Hadath, south Beirut, and the airport road.
The floods left students stranded at the university and the heavy rains brought mud into the underpass of the vital airport highway, blocking it in both directions for almost a day.
The minister apologized to the people who spent hours on the roads because of the floods.
“I understand all the tough criticism even if untrue because what happened is unjustified,” he said.
Aridi said that Safadi agreed on May 3 to sign the funds approved by the Cabinet in 2012 before the government’s resignation that year. He added that he got an approval from the minister on May 7 but on September 2, he got another memo disapproving the projects.
The reason for the disapproval was Aridi’s refusal to approve an illegal construction violation by the finance minister, the caretaker minister said.
He accused Safadi of illegally building a port in Barbara, east of Beirut, and also of starting an illegal construction project in Beirut’s Zaituna Bay.
The minister showed reporters documents proving his claims.
In response, Safadi said that Aridi is attacking him for political reasons in order to diminish the finance minister's chances of becoming a prime minister.
“The campaign of Aridi against me is political since I am a Sunni candidate for the prime minister post and some [parties] do not want a prime minister with a strong personality at this stage,” he told LBCI.
Safadi said that Aridi should not be blaming the finance ministry for the transport ministry’s failure to fulfill its missions.
He also denied building illegal properties in Barbara or Zaitunay Bay saying “these are all lies, lies, lies.”
“Let a committee be formed and inspect the allegations of the minister,” he said.
Safadi said that not all funds for the transport ministry were approved because the current Cabinet is a caretaker one and has limited prerogatives.
“We were allocating funds to the transport ministry, unlike Aridi’s claims, and we were working within the rules of the caretaker Cabinet but Aridi did not like that,” said Safadi.
“We have directions from the caretaker prime minister and we abide to them. If Aridi has a problem with that, he should complain to the prime minister,” he added.