BEIRUT: Caretaker Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi announced Monday he would no longer fulfill his ministerial duties, effectively stepping down from the resigned Cabinet.
Aridi said he would be taking a "political leave," speaking to reporters at a news conference in his Beirut office.
Aridi resigned after giving testimony to authorities investigating accusations of corruption against the Public Works Ministry following flooding and road closures earlier this month. Aridi and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi have been engaged in a war of words over the past week regarding the ministry’s failure to maintain drainage networks across the country ahead of winter storms.
Aridi blamed Safadi for the floods, saying the finance minister refused to approve the Public Works Ministry’s funds in an attempt to pressure Aridi into endorsing illegal construction. Safadi dismissed such claims and said they were part of a political smear campaign targeting him.
During the press conference, Aridi said he came under fire for recent comments following the flooding of the airport road several weeks ago.
“I was subject to enormous pressure that took different forms, and I was contacted by several officials who blamed me for taking the issue to the public,” he said.
“Officials who contacted me told me they knew I was right because many of the points I mentioned were brought up earlier in Cabinet...I do not believe things should be solved this way, and I do not want the facts to get distorted,” Aridi added.
Aridi dismissed the idea that there was any smear campaign against Safadi or that his accusations were politically driven. Aridi said he never wanted to launch a personal attack against Safadi, but insisted he was obligated to defend the public’s interests.
“I do not have a personal problem with Minister Mohammad Safadi regardless of the issues that he raises; he is free and that is his business,” he said.
“I only submitted facts for which I am seeking clarification... What matters to me is that the public’s interests do not get lost in political and media turmoil,” Aridi added.
“If Safadi is going to become a Prime Minister, I wish him all the best,” he said.
Aridi refrained from blaming the Finance Ministry for the floods and instead castigated the Middle East Airport Services (MEAS) company, which was contracted to carry out maintenance on sewage networks ahead of the winter season.
“The Finance Ministry has nothing to do with the flooding in Beirut... the report of the MEAS Company says that they carried out the needed cleaning work whereas the work was not done,” he said.
“The company has been working in an illegal frame for years and I had brought that up in previous Cabinets,” the minister said. He also said that the subcontractor responsible for the cleaning process did not receive an order from MEAS carry out the cleaning work until the day the flood began.
“I am not making accusations, I am talking about unfulfilled responsibilities and seeking answers,” he said.
Aridi had arrived at the Justice Palace at around 11 a.m. for a hearing with Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim who summoned him along with caretaker Minister Mohammed al-Safadi last week.
The hearing lasted for one hour and a half, while Safadi’s hearing is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
The questioning of two maintenance companies’ officials, who are considered neither witnesses nor suspects in the case, will focus on whether the firms signed or renewed contracts with the Public Works Ministry in 2013 to clean out the sewage drains.