Lebanese failure to pay UN dues ‘scandalous’

Lebanon faces a dire economic crisis as well, reflected Lebanon faces a dire economic crisis as well, reflected everyday by disputes and fights in banks between clients and employees. (AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2020

Lebanese failure to pay UN dues ‘scandalous’

  • Beirut loses voting rights at UN General Assembly

BEIRUT: Lebanon has lost its voting rights at the UN General Assembly after failing to pay financial dues for two consecutive years. The news came as a shock to the Lebanese and some described it as “scandalous.”

Lebanon is in a political paralysis preventing the formation of a government, after Hassan Diab was nominated as PM-designate three weeks ago. It faces a dire economic crisis as well, reflected everyday by disputes and fights in banks between clients and employees, due to the lack of liquidity and the rise in the dollar’s price in the black market. Some hospitals in Beirut have even started turning patients away in the absence of medical equipment.

Lebanon’s failure to pay its dues seemed to be a combination of many issues. Former Lebanese Minister Ashraf Rifi considered the news as “a new scandal that can be added to the record of corruption and failures.” 

MP Chamel Roukoz said: “We failed to pay our financial dues to the UN while public funds are being stolen and wasted daily. It is a shame to see the image of Lebanon, the country of leadership, sovereignty and glory being distorted this way.”

The Ministries of Finance and of Foreign Affairs both issued statements without specifying who is to blame. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “it had completed all transactions within the deadline and got in touch with the concerned officials,” the Ministry of Finance confirmed “it had not received any request to make the payment and arrears will be paid on Monday.”

The positions of the two ministries reflected the scale of the political dispute between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement, where Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri was quoted on Saturday as “feeling resentful of the way the government is being formed.” Berri said he insists on a technopolitical government while President Michel Aoun wants a political government and PM-designate insists on a technocrat government. He also confirmed that “he will not participate in such a government.”

Three weeks after his nomination Hassan Diab broke his silence and issued a statement on Friday night stating “he will not allow the government formation to become a battlefield.”

“No matter how much pressure is exerted, I will not change my convictions and will not be intimidated,” he said. Diab also reiterated his commitment to “the standards he had adopted for the government formation.” He said: “I will carry out my duty and I will form a small Cabinet of specialists to protect the Lebanese amid these difficult circumstances and save the country.”

MP Yassin Jaber, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, said: “What is currently happening is very shocking. The country has been facing a political vacuum since Oct 29 (the day Saad Hariri resigned) and caretaker ministers have not been performing their duties to improve the situation.”

“It all started with Gebran Bassil. It took two years and a half to elect a president and nine months to form a government. Today, our country is on the verge of collapsing and Bassil is still opposing to names of candidates who are not used to say ‘yes’ to everything,” he said.

Jaber insisted on the country’s need “for a technopolitical government, because an ill person needs a doctor with expertise to get better and not a fresh medical graduate”.

Salim Jreissaty, minister of state for presidential affairs in the caretaker government, defended the president’s competence and said, “the president is not a mailman nor a ballot box in the nomination process.” 

Three major political parties have refused to participate in the government: The Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces Party, and have insisted on a government of experts to save the country for the economic crisis. 

The protests that started on Oct. 17 have receded during the past few weeks, as protesters have been awaiting the new government. However, activists have kept their movement alive through well-targeted gatherings and marches. A march was organized on Saturday toward the headquarters of EDL in Beirut, to protest against corruption and waste in this institution, and toward the Banking Association to protest against financial policies and toward the parliament.

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 11 August 2020

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”