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Jumblatt upbraids Aridi for resigning ‘on whim’
Caretaker Minister Ghazi Aridi speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Caretaker Minister Ghazi Aridi speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: Druze leader Walid Jumblatt publicly chastised one of his ministers for resigning his post over a corruption scandal without consulting the party, saying it was inappropriate to act according to whims.

Caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi announced Monday he would no longer fulfill his ministerial duties, effectively stepping down from the resigned Cabinet. Speaking to reporters during a news conference in his Beirut office, Aridi said he would be taking “political leave.”

But Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party that Aridi belongs to, said in a TV interview that he had no prior knowledge of the announcement. He said PSP would issue a statement after “calmly” considering the issue.

“Aridi belongs to a party and cannot act on his whims,” Jumblatt said.

Aridi resigned after giving testimony to authorities that are investigating accusations of corruption against the his 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 Public Works Ministry’s failure to maintain drainage networks across the country ahead of winter storms.

Aridi has blamed Safadi for the flooding, 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 news conference at his office Monday, Aridi said he had come 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.

“The 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 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 raised; 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 said. “If Safadi is going to become a prime minister, I wish him all the best.”

Aridi did not repeat his accusations against the Finance Ministry over the floods and instead castigated the Middle East Airport Services (MEAS), which was contracted to carry out maintenance on sewage networks ahead of winter.

“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.”

He said the subcontractor responsible for the cleaning did not receive the order from MEAS to carry out the work until the day the floods began.

“I am not making accusations, I am talking about unfulfilled responsibilities and seeking answers,” he said.

Aridi arrived at the Justice Palace at around 11 a.m. for a hearing with Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim, who last week summoned both him and Safadi over the dispute. Aridi’s hearing lasted one hour and a half. Safadi’s hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Separately, the questioning of two maintenance companies’ officials, who are 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2013, on page 4.
This article was amended on Thursday, December 19 2013

This article was corrected on Dec. 19, 2013. The original article reported that the second private company involved in the case was Mechanical and Electrical Equipments and Systems (MEES). In fact, the company is called Middle East Airport Services (MEAS).   

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