Hasan Lakkis| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: A preliminary agreement has been reached regarding the waste treatment file, a source close to Prime Minister Tammam Salam told The Daily Star Sunday.

Monday’s Cabinet session dedicated to the issue will be a smooth one that will generate a conclusive solution to the divisive file that had put the government’s unity at risk, the source added.

An agreement was reached over waste treatment following a meeting Sunday between Salam and Information Minister Ramzi Joreige, from the Kataeb Party, the source added without further elaboration. Kataeb Party ministers had voiced opposition to the plan to treat solid waste as proposed by Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk, saying it lacked transparency.

The Cabinet will hold a special session Monday to tackle the controversial proposal to treat solid waste that had threatened to throw the already divided government into further disarray after it failed to reach an agreement last week.

Speaking to visitors at his residence in Moseitbeh earlier Sunday, Salam said that the Cabinet would try during Monday’s session to find a solution to this problem.

“The Cabinet will not be stopped by a statement here and there, or by a stance here and there, in order to freeze the [waste] issue. We will try to tackle matters as much as we can in a practical and logical manner,” Salam said. The Daily Star has learned that the Kataeb stance on the waste issue, to be announced by party leader Amine Gemayel Monday ahead of the Cabinet session, might carry positive elements softening the Kataeb ministers’ opposition to the plan, by agreeing to the state’s role in choosing the location of the landfills instead of leaving this matter to contractors, as was mentioned in the Environment Ministry’s original plan.

The Cabinet was in a race against time to reach an agreement on the solid waste treatment plan to avoid Beirut’s streets being flooded with trash after Jan. 17, when the contract between the government and Sukleen, the company responsible for sweeping and cleaning the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, expires.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 12, 2015, on page 1.
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Ministers spar over garbage bill, Machnouk hints at old vote order – Daily Star

Mazin Sidahmed| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Ministers exchanged accusations over the controversial waste management file Friday as the Kataeb Party released its proposed amendments to the bill and the environment minister hinted at a possible shift in the Cabinet voting method in order to resolve the crisis.

The Kataeb Party outlined in a press release its proposed amendments to the bill.

The party came up with the suggested changes after meeting with the Council for Development and Reconstruction, several technocrats and representatives from the Environment Ministry.

The party said that the plan currently puts too much power in the hands of companies to decide the location of landfills; they wish to amend this to put this power back in the hands of the government.

The statement said that allowing companies to decide the location of the landfills in each area would put them under the influence of dominant political groups in the respective regions.

The Cabinet failed Thursday to pass the waste management bill that was presented by Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk which proposed a national plan to treat the country’s solid waste.

There was a plan to close the controversial Naameh landfill by Jan. 17, but since no alternative option for the waste was presented Machnouk has said the dump may remain open for some months.

His decision is strongly opposed by the Progressive Socialist Party.

Beirut risks being buried in garbage after that date if no deal is reached and the dump is closed.

During the session, Kataeb ministers blocked the passing of the bill.

In its statement Friday, the party said that as it stands, the plan does not allow for competition in the tender of the contract to handle solid waste management which could drive the prices up.

Previously, Kataeb Party ministers also said that the rules for the tender did not stipulate that companies have the required experience to set up incinerators.

Machnouk hit back at the Kataeb Party in an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station during which he said he had already replied to their proposed amendments prior to the Cabinet meeting.

In another interview later in the day with Al-Sharq radio, he said there were divisions within the Kataeb Party on the issue.

“We have noticed that the Kataeb Party position was hesitant due to its internal conflict,” he said. “Information Minister Ramzi Joreige and Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi are on one side and Economy Minister Alain hakim is on the other side.

“It was embarrassing for the rest of the ministers.”

In other remarks to MTV, Machnouk expected a solution to the isue before Jan. 17.

After Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Machnouk hinted that he may press Prime Minister Tammam Salam to change the current voting system in the Cabinet to push through the vote.

When the presidency became vacant in May, the Cabinet decided that all bills should pass by unanimous approval instead of a two-third vote.

Machnouk, who is close to Salam, suggested he may press the premier to revert to the voting system that would allow bills to pass with the approval of two-thirds of Cabinet’s 24 ministers in order to push through his ministry’s waste management plan.

Since the Kataeb ministers were the only ones to oppose the bill, reverting to the old system would theoretically allow it pass.

Sources close to the prime minister said that they were currently prioritizing discussions between ministers but they would not rule out the option of switching to the old voting system if discussions proved fruitless.

However, Kataeb Party sources threatened that the group’s ministers would resign if the old voting system was adopted again.

Telecommunications Minister Butrous Harb visited Salam Friday, urging him to go revert to the old voting system which would allow his proposed specifications draft to award contracts to mobile phone operators, currently opposed by ministers from Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, to pass, sources told The Daily Star

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Harb warned that the situation had reached a critical point.

“We are in a crisis and we need to put lot of effort into finding a solution,” he said. “If the situation stays the same it will lead to a government shutdown, the repercussions of which are very dangerous.”

Harb said finding a solution would require communication between all the involved ministers and taking into consideration the issues raised by the Kataeb Party. – Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 10, 2015, on page 2.
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Waste dispute paralyzes Cabinet as Kataeb opposes treatment plan – Daily Star

Hasan Lakkis| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Discord over a controversial proposal to treat solid waste paralyzed Cabinet Thursday, with Prime Minister Tammam Salam vowing to hold no more sessions before consensus was reached on the plan. Salam adjourned the five-hour session after Kataeb Party ministers voiced opposition to the plan to treat solid wastes as proposed by Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk, saying it lacked transparency.

According to the Environment Ministry, Lebanon produces 1.57 million tons of solid waste a year, an amount that grows at an annual rate of 1.65 percent.

The plan would divide Lebanon into five blocs and request the Council of Development and Reconstruction to launch tenders to award contracts to companies to collect, transport and treat solid waste in each of these areas.

The Kataeb ministers stood opposed to several components of the plan, including the way Beirut and Mount Lebanon were divided and the fact that the companies would choose the locations of dumps and incinerators on their own.

The party also argued that the plan did not grant municipalities the right to collect and transport trash.

Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, from Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, said the Cabinet reached an agreement on the divisions of blocs.

But Chehayeb said there was a “mystery” surrounding the Kataeb ministers’ stance. The session failed when Kataeb ministers questioned how contracts would be awarded to companies and were not convinced of the plan.

Ministerial sources told The Daily Star Kataeb ministers argued that the manner in which contracts were awarded ought to be transparent, and voiced suspicions that contracts had already been earmarked for certain companies even before the tenders were launched.

On his way into the session, Economy Minister Alain Hakim, from the Kataeb Party, said that “everybody knows that MP Walid Jumblatt has his own company ready to collect and treat waste.”

But Hakim later retracted his remarks, saying he was “not optimistic about a resolution to the issue.”

The Kataeb Party’s stance enraged Salam, who adjourned the session, stressing that he would not call for another session until consensus was reached between ministers.

It is the first time Salam has resorted to such a move.

In comments after the session, Chehayeb disputed an earlier claim made by Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi in which he said Cabinet agreed to amend the tender document, something the Kataeb Party had called for, saying: “Unfortunately, Azzi does not know what he’s talking about.”

Machnouk said that the issues that had halted discussions “were not worth the opposition.”

Cabinet’s failure to reach an agreement on a plan to treat solid waste threatened to flood Beirut’s streets with trash after Jan. 17, the date when the contract between the government and Sukleen, the company responsible for sweeping and cleaning the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, expires.

By that date the government is also supposed to close the landfill in the Chouf town of Naameh where Sukleen trucks dump their haul.

Created as a six-year project in 1997, the landfill is now 18 years old and has exceeded its maximum capacity by five times, frustrating the residents of the area with its odor and gas emissions.

But the issue is a source of dispute between Machnouk and PSP ministers. While Machnouk argues that the deadline should be pushed back until new companies tasked with collecting and treating waste are selected, PSP ministers insist that the dump should be closed on time.

Most PSP supporters live in the Chouf, and residents of Naameh have threatened to close the dump themselves by Jan. 17 if the government does not act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 09, 2015, on page 1
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