Lebanon News

March 8 rejects accusations of Cabinet corruption, inaction

Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan speaks during an interview in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: March 8 officials Friday defended the Cabinet they dominate against ongoing accusations of corruption and unproductiveness by rival March 14 groups.

Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said the Cabinet was clamping down on corruption, highlighting its efforts to guarantee public safety.

“Corruption did not begin recently and corrupt people are being toppled because of Cabinet oversight,” Hajj Hasan told reporters.

“I want to salute the Justice Ministry and Justice Minister [Shakib Qortbawi] because under his tenure the judiciary began taking stricter measures against the corrupt,” he said.

Hajj Hassan said 20 people have been arrested over the issue of spoiled food. Authorities have been raiding warehouses containing spoiled food over the past weeks, and he said that “in previous years, not a single person was arrested over the issue of food.”

“But whatever we do, there are people who will continue to attack us for political reasons,” Hajj Hassan added.

In January, opposition March 14 groups held the Cabinet responsible for the illegal profit red-gasoil distribution companies allegedly made by purchasing $80 million of red gasoil when it was exempt from VAT, and making the substance available to customers only after the government reinstated VAT on it.

Future Movement MP Mohammad Qabbani has held Energy Minister Gibran Bassil responsible for the scandal, although investigations by the Court of Accounts did not back this up.

In another attack on the Cabinet, Qabbani was quoted Friday as saying Cabinet’s decision to lease electricity-generating ships and build new power plants was illegal, and violated laws governing the electricity sector.

Qabbani told An-Nahar that the decision violates electricity law 462. He said the law calls for the creation of a regulatory authority for electricity. The authority would outline a road map for reforming the sector, provide electricity through cooperation with Electricite Du Liban, secure a strategic partner and then provide additional production via the private sector. Qabbani chairs the Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee.

The Cabinet agreed Wednesday to lease power-generating ships for a maximum of three years to produce 270 MW and to construct 1,500-MW power plants.

But Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad defended the Cabinet’s move, saying it addresses the country’s electricity shortage. “Ships are necessary so that the situation of electricity will not deteriorate further. Power plants are also necessary for a radical solution,” he said.

The lawmaker said he hoped the three public sector appointments Cabinet made Wednesday will open the door for further appointments. The Cabinet is under fire from the March 14 coalition for its inability to fill vacant public sector posts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 31, 2012, on page 3.




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