BEIRUT: Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel said Monday the funds allocated to renovate the notorious Roumieh Prison complex had been mismanaged, as the interior of the facility was 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.
“Only five of the 25 percent that was allocated to improve conditions inside the prison was spent, and the state of that project is 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 premier 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 the 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. The overcrowded conditions mean prisoners have to sleep in close quarters, sometime with 86 in one sizeable room.
During the riots, inmates demanded speedy trials, an end to mandatory detention and better living conditions.
Moqbel said 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 for overseeing the process, including the Public Works Ministry.
Following the meeting, Kheireddine said the committee’s main concern was to improve conditions in the prison by laying out a plan to effectively use the building and put an end to squandering money on commissions. Qortbawi stepped in and added: “And to hold those responsible for that accountable.”
Two months ago Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim tasked the Office of Financial Crime and Money Laundering to question the executive contractor for the Roumieh renovation, after Charbel expressed outrage at the decrepit conditions of the prison block despite the project nearing its deadline.
Charbel inspected the facility with Moqbel last month with renewed indignation at the subpar conditions of Block D.
He complained that the renovations had not prioritized the basic needs of a prisoner, as security cameras were in place but running water and proper beds were not.
The renovations began in January.