Kataeb youth demonstration demands end to trash crisis

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Kataeb Party youth protested Sunday against Lebanon’s ongoing trash crisis, lashing out at the Cabinet and the Council for Development and Reconstruction for their failure to address the 7-month-old calamity. Supporters gathered at around 4 p.m. outside the party’s main headquarters near Martyrs’ Square where demonstrators rallied under the banner of “Lebanon is Not a Dump” as they waved Lebanese and Kataeb flags. An empty chair was also placed in the middle of the road outside the building with a sign reading “Elect a president before the post merely becomes a symbol,” in reference to the ongoing 21-month presidential vacuum.

The protesters then headed further into Downtown Beirut and demonstrated near the Grand Serail. They shouted chants decrying the Cabinet and waste-management company Sukleen, which is charged with managing the waste of the capital and Mount Lebanon region. Head of the party MP Sami Gemayel has accused Sukleen of corruption numerous times.

Last Wednesday, he urged the judiciary to follow up on a previous complaint lodged against Sukleen amidst allegations of embezzlement and incompetence. Gemayel also accused the company of neglecting its duties and stealing public finances by burying the trash in landfills rather than sorting it.

Sukleen issued a statement Sunday in response to Gemayel. “We fully reject the politically motivated public comments, accusations and remarks made against Sukleen by MP Sami Gemayel and the Kataeb Party.”

Sukleen stressed that it had always cooperated with Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim and had always operated within the confines of its contract with the government. Sukleen argues that this contract stipulated that 80 percent of the waste could be sent to landfills and the remaining 20 percent must be treated. Gemayel said Wednesday that the opposite ought to be done.

The contract is not public record.

Sukleen said that it had launched an internal initiative in order to limit the amount of waste being sent to dumps. The company also encouraged the public, and Gemayel in particular, to check a “fact sheet” it has published on the matter.

“We want to make it very clear to the general public that Sukleen and Sukomi [Sukleen’s sister company] do not and did not condone, approve of nor engage in any Lebanese political parties’ or political leaders’ agendas,” the company said.

The company’s calls didn’t deter Sunday’s protestors however, who continued their march across Beirut and rallied near the CDR headquarters. The demonstrators verbally attacked Nabil Jisr, the council’s head for what they described as his mismanagement of waste collection.

“You have been directly responsible for the garbage issue for two years,” Deputy Secretary General of the Kataeb Party Patrick Risha said. “You put flawed specification books [to attract bids from companies to manage trash] when you were supposed to preserve our rights and public finances.”

Risha then called on Jisr to resign. “You are either incompetent or implicated, and in either way you are responsible and should go home,” he said. “We will remain until all our demands are met so that we regain our dignity and our health, and return Lebanon to a clean and beautiful country because Lebanon is not a dump.”

The demands included four solutions to be applied on the municipal level within a decentralized framework. The protestors also called for the immediate and complete release of municipal funds and the establishment of a ministerial committee to cooperate with civil-society organizers and the CDR and hold open and transparent meetings. Demonstrators also called for transporting the waste to a piece of land in Lebanon’s eastern mountain range.

Municipalities recently received 80 percent of the municipal funds they are owed. The remaining amount was allotted to Sukleen, despite numerous promises by politicians and ministers that the municipalities would receive the total amount due to them.

“Our first demand is the release of municipal funds,” Ralph Sahyoun, head of the Kataeb Youth Department, said. “The municipalities are at the center of the issue.”

Since closing the infamous Naameh landfill south of Beirut in mid-July, politicians have been unable to find any solution to the country’s waste problem.

In the meantime, some local officials have resorted to recycling or managing their own waste. And some have illegally dumped trash in unofficial locations or burnt it, causing major concern over pollutions levels.

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