Par for the course

Address of Pr.Minister Najib Mikati at the Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro. Friday, June 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

Lebanese officials have delivered a strong one-two punch in recent days, but they might not have spent enough time considering the impact of their words.

In Rio de Janeiro, Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged the world to establish an “environmental tribunal” that would see the international community hand down punishments for crimes against the environment. He said such a move would eventually force Israel to pay compensation to Lebanon for acts such as polluting the Mediterranean Sea during the July 2006 war.

However, Mikati was speaking during a week in which MPs at Nijmeh Square spent part of their time debating how to boost the status of the environmental public prosecutor’s office in Lebanon.

In theory, the move is commendable. In practice, however, protecting the environment is one of those lofty objectives that are hailed year after year by politicians and officials as a much-needed step.

The problem is that Mikati and other officials who make such calls sound like members of the opposition. Instead of talking about what they have accomplished, they continue to talk about what needs to be done, without questioning why they are unable to make any progress despite holding the reins of power.

Lebanon is “celebrating” the 10th anniversary of a law on the environment this year – if by celebrating one means officials go to Rio to make speeches while failing to issue the executive decrees needed to give the legislation back at home any teeth.

All Mikati needed to do was take a good look at the quality of the water along the coast and in rivers; the country’s steadily disappearing mountains as they face the onslaught of quarries; the horrific situation of waste dumps; and the big brown haze that has taken up residence over Greater Beirut. If the government had achieved progress on any of these fronts, he would have had a good reason for making the trip to Brazil.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel gave a speech this week at a conference on traffic safety before the country’s engineers. Like Mikati, he enthusiastically spoke about how the government sought a “radical solution” to the situation on roads.

Again, the problem is that Charbel is a member of the very government that fails to record any significant achievements on this score. And worse still, the minister appeared to feel no embarrassment in rattling off several truly frightening pieces of information.

One is that “half” of the license plates on taxis and public transport vehicles in the country are fake. Another is that out of Charbel’s estimate of 1.5 million cars on the roads, some 600,000 have not passed the required road-worthiness test, required every year.

In other countries, such revelations would lead to the resignation of the minister in charge. In Lebanon, they are merely par for the course.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2012, on page 7.




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