BEIRUT: Caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi and Caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi traded accusations Monday over allegations that funds have not yet been allocated to Aridi’s ministry, preventing it from cleaning sewers and drainage pipes. Aridi blasted the Cabinet and the Finance Ministry at a news conference in his office for not depositing the necessary funds.
Without funding, he said, the ministry was not capable of carrying out its cleaning duties, which is why several streets flooded Saturday after the first rainfall of the autumn season.
Flooding occurs every year after with the first rainfall of the autumn season because of garbage and particle accumulation in sewage systems during the summer months. The Public Works and Transportation Ministry, along with local municipalities, is responsible for cleaning sewage and drainage pipes.
Beirut witnessed its first heavy rainfall of the year last Friday, when rains flooded the streets of the capital and its southern suburbs, blocking traffic.
Heavy rains usually inundate low-lying areas and cause landslides near the mountainous regions.
Lebanon’s weak infrastructure is partly to blame for flooding and in Beirut the problem is exacerbated by trash. In the capital garbage accumulates along the river and clogs the surface of drainage pipes.
“This was the only year where we could not carry out necessary public works across the country ... because funding was not allocated to the ministry as the Cabinet is in caretaker status,” Aridi said.
“Since the first Cabinet was formed in Lebanon, the country has passed numerous periods of caretaker status. I witnessed such periods when I was running the Public Works and Transportation Ministry in 2008, so caretaker status is not new in the country. We always had caretaker Cabinets and we still fulfilled our duties toward the Lebanese.
“What we are witnessing today and what is happening during this phase is something unprecedented in the history of Lebanon. Under the pretense of the caretaker phase all [the ministry’s] projects were put to a halt,” he added.
“Two days ago I warned [the Cabinet] that the streets would be flooded with the rainwater and with winter approaching. No one should hold the Public Works and Transportation Ministry responsible for this situation, for until this moment we haven’t been able to give any direct order to contractors to act because of the caretaker philosophy upheld by the Finance Ministry.
“I will personally bear responsibility and will order the contractor to start their work and clean the sewers and drainage openings. We will not leave the streets flooded because of political bickering and philosophies, the likes of which we have never seen in Lebanese history,” he added.
Later, Safadi’s office issued a brief statement expressing “utmost surprise toward Aridi’s accusations,” and emphasized that “both Aridi and the caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati know quite well the funds that were allocated and cashed from the Finance Ministry to the Public Works Ministry in 2013, in line with the applicable laws and the budget.”
“It’s unfortunate that Aridi is suggesting that there is a dispute with the finance minister over this issue,” it said.
The statement added that Safadi “is eager to preserve public funds and the rights of citizens.”