New Lebanese government to prepare statement on policy goals

The new Lebanese Cabinet pose for a group photo with President Michel Aoun, first row center, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, first row center right, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (first row center left during their meeting on February 2. (AFP)
Updated 02 February 2019
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New Lebanese government to prepare statement on policy goals

  • The cabinet’s first meeting was held at the presidential palace near Beirut on Saturday
  • It was attended by 30 cabinet ministers as well as the president and prime minister

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s new Cabinet has held its first meeting and the country’s leaders vowed to deal with the political and economic challenges the country faces.

The meeting was held at the presidential palace near Beirut on Saturday and attended by the 30 Cabinet ministers as well as the president and prime minister.

The new Cabinet, which was announced on Thursday night, formed a 10-member committee whose job will be to draft a government policy statement that will be read in Parliament ahead of a vote of confidence.

Lebanon’s new government will start preparing its policy statement on Monday that may provide an early clue as to whether the coalition government can agree on the “bold reforms” that Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri has said are needed.

It may also address issues such as Lebanon’s relationship with Syria and the Iran-backed Hezbollah group’s possession of a large arsenal on which members of the coalition disagree.

At Saturday’s Cabinet meeting, the first since the government was formed on Thursday, Hariri said: “There are difficult decisions in all areas that we must take.”

 

Nothing new

Though Lebanon has a new government, formed after nine months of political wrangling, many Lebanese feel that little will change.

“It’s the same political class that has nothing to do with reform,” said George Azar, an activist with the Lebanese Corruption Observatory. “We’re ready to take to the streets and protest all the waste, corruption and failed policies.” 

Nasser Yassin, director of research at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said: “The new government is a positive step in principle. It must continue to work on the agreements Lebanon had signed, and issue implementation decrees of the laws issued on paper.” 

He added: “There are respectable new ministers, but in my opinion the content of the current government is an embellishment of the previous one.”

“It can’t face the major issues related to economic reforms, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and problems associated with the regional situation. This isn’t a rescue government but a beautification one.”

Mona Kattan said: “As a Lebanese activist in the field of giving women the right to grant citizenship to their foreign children, I’m glad to see four women holding ministerial portfolios.”

Housewife Hind said nothing has changed but ministers’ faces. “They make promises, but this is Hezbollah’s government and it will be however Hezbollah likes,” she said. Prime Minister Saad Hariri “was stuck with a fait accompli,” she added. 

“It’s true that some ministers are competent, but they’re linked to the political leaders who brought them, so how can they make reforms that may not serve their leaders?” 

Lawyer Saleh Suleiman said he is glad “a woman has been appointed interior minister because it gives a positive impression in the Arab and Western worlds.”

He added: “Hezbollah’s assumption of the health portfolio doesn’t mean it will work wonders with it. I believe it will continue the work of those who preceded it.” 

Appointing ministers from the Bekaa Valley does not mean the region will be given more attention because they, including the ministers of health and agriculture, seldom visit the Bekaa, Suleiman said. 

Playwright Yahya Jaber said: “As a Lebanese citizen who has hit rock bottom, I have no choice but to be optimistic that this government will do something.”

He added: “I’m happy that four women were appointed in the Cabinet, but does this mean women aren’t corrupt or unlikely to become so?” 

He wondered why there was a focus on appointing ministers from the north of the country. “Is it because the next phase is focused on the reconstruction of Syria through the capital of northern Lebanon, Tripoli?” he asked. “I’m not a politician, but I connect the dots and this is how I see things.”

 


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 25 min 53 sec ago
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‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.