BEIRUT: Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel said Monday the funds allocated to renovate the notorious Roumieh Prison complex had been mismanaged, with the interior of the facility still in a decrepit state.
“Seventy five percent of the funds were allocated to purchase surveillance cameras and ambulances, prepare an operations room, and install television sets; this money was wasted and squandered on [illicit] commissions,” Moqbel told The Daily Star.
“While only five of the 25 percent that was allocated to improving conditions inside the prison was spent, and the state of those projects are tragic and not up to standard,” he added.
Moqbel’s remarks came after he attended a ministerial meeting chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail to discuss an assessment prepared by the deputy PM and other ministers about the progress of renovations.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, caretaker State Minister Marwan Kheireddine and caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi also attended the meeting.
Moqbel criticized the absence of an effective plan and an advisory body, which he said should have prioritized spending the funds for renovation purposes and placed conditions on how the money was spent.
Last year, the government allocated $8.5 million to renovate Roumieh Prison, Lebanon’s largest prison facility which suffers from chronic overcrowding. It was severely damaged after several riots were carried out by inmates.
The prison’s infrastructure was built to house 1,500 inmates but at least 3,000 prisoners currently occupy the building’s four main blocks.
During the riots prisoners demanded speedy trials, an end to mandatory detention and improved living conditions.
Moqbel said that Qortbawi, along with state and financial prosecutors, would review the renovation works and submit a report in 15 days.
"We also tasked an advisory office to lay out conditions for work and supervise the progress," he said, refusing to point fingers at the ministries responsible to oversee the process, including the Public Works Ministry.
Following the meeting, Kheireddine said the ministerial committee's main concern was to improve conditions in the prison by laying out a plan to effectively use the building and put and to squandering money on commissions.
Qortbawi stepped in and said: "And to hold those responsible for that accountable."
Earlier this year, the financial prosecutor launched an investigation into allegations that the contracting company had squandered public funds in the project to renovate the prison complex.