BEIRUT: The Beirut municipal council has not met for weeks due to ongoingdisputes between some members and the mayor, those involved say, with the division partly prompting one person to submithis resignation. Sixteen of the council’s 24 members have boycotted the body’s sessions for weeks to protest Mayor Bilal Hamad’s refusal to hold elections for members and committee heads.
The demonstrators object to the fact that, contrary to the law, Hamad has headed the Works Committee and the Property Appraisal Committee since he was elected as mayor in 2010.
They want an election to be held to choose a new leader for the two groups.
The Property Appraisal Committee determines the value of land based on which the municipality decides how investors have to pay for a construction permit. The Works Committee lays down plans for future projects in Beirut.
“Members of the council are frustrated over the situation, not because of [Mayor] Bilal [Hamad] personally, but because of the abuse of power [he is practicing],” said Imad Beydoun, one of the protesting council members.
“We have been calling for elections in all committees for a long time now,” he told The Daily Star Sunday.
Beydoun said the mayor legally has the right to head only the Tender Biddings Committee, not the other two.
Beydoun said the mayor had not allowed the issue to be addressed during council sessions: “He only puts on a silly agenda for the session.”
He said around two weeks ago, two-thirds of the council met outside the municipality building and decided to boycott the sessions – preventing it from being able to meet through the lack of a quorum – until their demands were addressed and elections for all committees were held.
“Around three weeks ago, we invited him [Hamad] to a closed-door meeting to address the issue, but he refused to show up, though 19 members confirmed their attendance.”
Last week, Issam Barghout, who has been a member of the council for three consecutive terms, submitted his resignation to Nassif Qaloush, Beirut’s acting governor.
Barghout insisted that he resigned over health reasons, although he acknowledged that there were “minor disputes” within the council.
“I have been admitted to hospital five or six times in the past three months for hypertension and other problems,” Barghout said.
“There are some trivial problems in the council that I tried to solve but couldn’t. But this was not the reason behind my resignation.”
“I didn’t attend several sessions due to health problems and thus I resigned so that my absence won’t be attributed to other reasons,” he said.
However, Barghout added: “Despite my health problems, I am ready to go back on my resignation if the disputes are resolved.”
Beydoun offered an alternative version of events, saying Barghout resigned after his efforts to convince Hamad to hold elections hit a dead end.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Hamad acknowledged the presence of disputes within the council, but said they were being blown out of proportion by certain media outlets.
“This is a successful municipal council ... and some people are interested in impeding its successful path,” Hamad said.
“I am not hiding it, there are differences in opinion but most of them have been resolved,” he added.
“I am working on achieving consensus before we hold a session and this is happening. God willing, a session will be held soon.”
But the mayor refused to go into details over the dispute over the council committees.
He said that since he had come to office, he had decided not to hold any council sessions if a disputed issue was on the agenda that would deeply divide the body. He would rather achieve consensus over a contested issue before a meeting, he said.
“Ninety-nine percent of all decisions taken by the council since day one have been taken unanimously,” Hamad said.
Hamad said he thought of Barghout as a father, and that he had called him to urge him to retract his resignation. He said mere health reasons were behind Barghout’s decision, and that he had been facing physical problems for more than six months.
“I knew him before I became a mayor. Both of us have been working in the social field for over 20 years. We are friends and he is like my father, and the spiritual father of this council,” Hamad said.
The Future Movement dominated- council includes representatives of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces.
Beydoun said that five Future Movement members were among the protesters, adding that he believed the group was the only party that could solve the problem. Hamad is also close to the movement.
“We are waiting now for the Future Movement to resolve the case before we decide on the next step,” Beydoun said.