BEIRUT: The Lebanese Contractors Association asked Thursday that politics stay out of the Roumieh Prison investigation, after caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati tasked judicial authorities earlier this month to examine the case of allegedly mismanaged funds meant to renovate the complex.
According to a statement, the association stressed it would take legal action if the contractor responsible for the renovation project was indicted and would approach the caretaker premier and other relevant officials to put a stop the “politicization” of the case.
The association’s board of directors held an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss a means of “protecting the professional dignity of the contractor” following the investigation into the renovations in Block D by judicial authorities.
“What is happening is unbelievable and it is not right,” head of the association, Fouad al-Khazen, told The Daily Star.
The judicial authorities have already held several meetings with concerned parties and have guidelines in place for the study looking into the renovations in Block D. They also toured the prison block recently, according to a statement from the association.
Once the public prosecutor finalizes the investigation and determines how much money was misused, the case will be referred to the investigative judge.
Last year, the government allocated $8.5 million to renovate Lebanon’s largest prison facility, which suffers from chronic overcrowding.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel inspected the facility in July and expressed outrage at the subpar conditions of Block D.
Charbel complained that the renovations had not prioritized the basic needs of prisoners and that funds had been mismanaged.
Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi also announced this month his intention to find a solution to the Roumieh case.
According to the association, in November 2012 a contracting company won a limited bidding tender and began construction work in the Roumieh prison last January, based on stated specifications and conditions.
But construction was halted in May for technical and administrative reasons, and the contracting company fell under severe political and media scrutiny over the “noticeable shortcoming” in the renovation work completed at the time and the funds already used, the statement said.
If the contractor was found to have mismanaged public funds, the association voiced its readiness to hold the member accountable. It also expressed appreciation that the authorities were following up on the case, but warned that the judicial team should not “jump the gun” and assign blame without first checking to see whether the work completed so far complimented contractual guidelines.
The association also said in the statement that it would follow up if there was overwhelming evidence that funds were mismanaged, but expressed its wish that meetings would be set before the media was informed of the indictment.
The association also spoke on behalf of the contracting firm, stressing that the “contracting company implemented all that was required according to the regulations.”
It said it reserved the right to provide evidence to defend the contractor to protect it against defamation by the media and its “unjustified accusations.”
The association also expressed hope that a neutral Cabinet would be formed soon in order to salvage the economy.
“We would like there to be an independent Cabinet to safeguard its people’s interests and not just its own,” Khazen said.