Lebanon to restart oil, gas licensing round and it smells fishy

In its first sitting since being formed in December, Lebanon’s new cabinet passed two decrees on Wednesday defining the blocks and specifying conditions for production and exploration tenders and contracts. In a record time, the ministers went over 600 pages document and passed those decrees. Was the deal and the shares been distributed before hand? How can a new government that barley met, ministers didn’t even have the time to look at their own ministries, can go over 600 pages in couple of hours? When did ministers have the time to study the file? Many of them just returned from Christmas and New Year vacation !!

It doesn’t sound right to me. Yet, the country needs to start the offshore digging in order to know how much oil and gas the fields will produce. In addition, the country’s economy is near collapsing. the public debt is around US$ 69.02 billion (2015 numbers). Add to that the cost of hosting 1 million Syrian refugees. Oil and gas will create jobs and hopefully will lift the economy, pay the debt and make the living of the Lebanese people with fewer burdens.

The problem is not the quantity of oil and gas, it’s the political system we have and corruption. In our current status, public funds are mismanaged and mostly stolen. Lebanon doesn’t have the tools, laws and clean people in the right place to avoid what happened in other countries. Vast sums of money from national accounts in some oil- and gas-producing countries evaporated.

Lebanon that we have today will not be able to control theft, bribery and state-wide corruption. I’m pretty sure that the current political system will mishandled the oil and gas sector and the squanders of the potential revenues. According to Transparency International 2015 report,  Lebanon ranked 123 out of 168 countries. The country scored 28 over 100 in public sector corruption.

Before digging, we must have a change in the political representation. Those who are corrupt can’t and shouldn’t be allowed to handle the oil and gas file. So we need the following:

  • New fair electoral vote
  • Clean elections
  • New government based on election results
  • Transparency laws
  • Methods to end corruption and misuse of funds and public resources
  • Laws that allows the public access to information
  • Establishing a company that represents the country in the agreements with companies who will be doing the exploration and excavation.
  • Sending students and workers to get training in the sector of oil and gas.
  • The company that will represent the country should open specialized university to teach students skills that will be required for the industry.
  • Limit the numbers of foreigners and force the companies to use mainly Lebanese workforce

 

Invitation to Ghazi Aad Commemoration Celebration

On the Occasion of Human Rights Day
Ghazi Aad’s Commemoration Committee:
• The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
• SOLIDE Association
• Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and the Disappeared in Lebanon
• The Lebanese Committee of the Families of Detainees in Syria
• The Lebanese Center for Human Rights
• MP Ghassan Moukheiber

You are cordially invited to
Activist Ghazi Aad’s Commemoration Ceremony
And
Resuming the Journey to Solve the Issue of the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared

on Saturday, 17 December, 2016 at 12:00 noon
at Gibran Garden, downtown Beirut near the Protest Tent of the Missing

Open Invitation
45 Minutes Celebration

He is no more

Ghazi Aad is no more. He passed to the other side. Ghazi was the director and co-founder of SOLIDE (Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile). He established the organization in 1990. When people were silenced by intimidation, torture, exile and death, Ghazi started to work for those who vanished. He didn’t let his wheelchair stop him. With it and his determination he broke the wall of silence. Today we hear parties and politicians sending their condolences and talking about him and the cause that he fought for. These same politicians and parties left him and the families of those who disappeared alone. The majority of them didn’t dare to face him or extend their hands  to the families.

I had the honor to meet him in person. With a group of friends in Montreal we invited Ghazi and set up few meetings with Canadian officials to explain to the cause he carried on his shoulders. I’m not sure if anyone can carry the torch after him. Will his struggle and hard work will go in vain? I ask myself this question and extend it to my fellow Lebanese.

Ghazi Aad you are a hero. Heroes never die.

SOLIDE: http://solidelb.org/

Since the independence

Since Lebanon became an independent country, the Kataeb party was the party of the president. It always supported the president of the republic. Few month ago, Sami Gemayel was elected the head of the party.   Since then he has been fighting the wrong battle and taking wrong decisions. He accepted to be part of a Hizbullah government and by the end. Of thrthe government life he decided to pull out the ministers that represent the party in the government. To make the story short, he lost couple of ministers.  He waged a wrong timed war on garbage collection, the result tons of garbage stayed on the streets and he never presented a solution. Few weeks ago, he opposed the election of Aoun as president of the country and acted like a jackass during the election (nothing close to his grandlpa class act or uncle). The little boy was pissed because his dad wasn’t elected as president. Yet, little Sami is crying foul because the Kataeb might not have a minister In the new government. Yesterday, his group were caught covering the picture of the newly elected president by Sami’s picture. Moral of the story: if your grandfather was a great political ma and your uncle  was an amazing leader it doesn’t mean you are capable of being a fraction of what they were.

Beirut’s lessons for how not to rebuild a war-torn city

By Julia Tierney – Washington Post: Link to Original Article

The Syrian conflict has divided and destroyed many of the country’s most important cities. Should the fighting cease, they will require massive reconstruction. Yet I spoke with urban development specialists at the National Agenda for the Future of Syria who fear that the war-torn cities of Homs and Aleppo will never be rebuilt. Instead, they will be razed to the ground and another Solidere will be rebuilt in their place.

Their references to Solidere are intriguing. Solidere is the name of the private company contracted to rebuild downtown Beirut after the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). However, Beirut’s reconstruction had wide-ranging political and economic repercussions that offer an object lesson in how not to rebuild a devastated city.

Solidere turned Beirut into a city of exclusion. Its iconic architecture and tax incentives attracted foreign investment, in turn helping the country’s economic recovery. But more buildings were torn down during reconstruction than were destroyed by the war, transforming Beirut’s war-scarred layers of history from the Roman, Mamluk, Ottoman and French periods into a city without memory.

During the civil war, Beirut was separated by checkpoints between Christian East and Muslim West. Daily movement today is disrupted by what Mona Fawaz, a scholar of urban planning, describes as architectures of security. Soldiers and blast barriers guard the entrances to Solidere’s downtown. The sidewalks outside public buildings are protected by concrete walls and barbed wire, forcing pedestrians onto the road. The areas surrounding politicians’ homes or political party headquarters are blocked by checkpoints. The only public park was, until recently, closed to the public for security reasons. The sentiment that those living here need to create a bubble and live inside the bubble for them not to lose their minds is one often expressed to me, and which I also feel after two years of living in Beirut. These frustrations mean that half of Lebanon’s young and educated emigrate at some point in their lives.

Solidere also symbolizes the extent to which reconstruction has blurred the boundaries between public interest and private profit. The process of postwar rebuilding was especially lucrative for members of government and their business associates, none more so than billionaire Prime MinisterRafiq Hariri, who upon purchasing $125 million of shares in Solidere became the largest shareholder in the very company to which his cabinet awarded the most lucrative reconstruction project. Hariri also owned Lebanon’s largest private construction company, whose director was appointed the head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, meaning, in the words of architect Hashim Sarkis, that “the agency that the government used to control private development has now reversed its role.”

Lebanon went deeply into debt to finance reconstruction, and with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 149 percent, it is today the world’s third-most-indebted country. The interest payments total more than a third of the government’s annual spending. Yet because politicians and their families control one-third of all banking assets — and because Lebanese banks own around 85 percent of the debt — these payments profit the very political leaders sinking Lebanon deeper into debt.

Lebanon’s reconstruction has preserved the war economies once lining the pockets of militia leaders. During the civil war, the militias established civil administrations to service their sectarian constituencies. In return for taxing the population under their control, they collected garbage, provided water and electricity, managed traffic and maintained roads. Yet the militias also turned war into a strategic resource. From drug-trafficking to pillaging the port to speculating against the Lebanese pound, the militias procured about $1 billion annually, creating personal fortunes for their leaders and perpetuating the civil war.

Postwar reconstruction came without political reconciliation. The former warlords are today Lebanon’s politicians, ministers and heads of government. These include (but are not limited to) Walid Joumblatt, the Druze leader who despite displacing tens of thousands during the war was named minister of the displaced; Nabih Berri, who led Shiite forces and has been speaker of parliament since the civil war’s conclusion; as well as presidential candidates Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun, whose Christian militias battled each other throughout the war. Their inclusion may have persuaded them to lay down their arms, but according to Reinoud Leenders, these politicians are less willing to surrender the economic windfalls from violence and state collapse. Today, they sit in a paralyzed parliament — which has failed to elect a president in more than two years (or pass a budget in over a decade) — where they line their pockets through a system of sectarian patronage.

The pathologies of reconstructed Beirut are laid bare in the deterioration of basic services. Every summer when the faucets run dry, the streets are blocked by tanker trucks delivering water to the plastic cisterns atop apartment buildings. Compared with the average international broadband speed of 22.4 megabits per second, Beirut’s internet crawls along at 3.2 Mbit/s — and only when there is electricity. There are daily blackouts of three hours in Beirut and up to 18 hours in the rest of Lebanon. The government subsidizes the public electricity provider $2 billion annually, totaling 40 percent of the public debt; but with half the bills uncollected and politicians divided over privatization, the World Bank refers to Electricité du Liban as “the Poster Child of Confessionally-Induced Waste in Public Spending that Plagues Public Finances, Businesses, and Households since 1981.”

Everyone must purchase potable water, and those who can afford it pay for a generator, but there is no individual solution to garbage. A private company is responsible for both the collection and disposal of Beirut’s garbage. The council of ministers renewed its contract three times without an open tender and its payment per ton of garbage is one of the highest in the world. So when the landfill, which had long reached its absorptive capacity, was closed last summer and putrid garbage began piling on the streets, the Lebanese people participated in the largest protests since the assassination of Hariri in 2005 and the withdrawal of Syrian occupying troops. They were demanding not simply a solution to the trash crisis but an end to corruption disguised as sectarianism.

As the economic downturn and insecurity of the Syrian war bleed across the border, Lebanese policymakers point to the business opportunities of reconstruction. I spoke with real estate developers who hope to be called upon for rebuilding and commercial bankers who want to reopen their offices in Syria.

But as international donors and development specialists look towards reconstructing Syria, they should heed the lessons from Lebanon. Politically paralyzed, infrastructurally fragile and deeply indebted, Lebanon is a model for what postwar Syria should avoid. A cessation of the hostilities is essential in Syria. Yet reconstruction without dismantling the war economies and political patronage networks perpetuating them means that Syrian reconstruction will resemble Lebanon, in all its division and dysfunction. More than rebuilding, what is required is reorienting the political economy away from war. Lebanon reveals this is especially problematic when the same perpetrators and profiteers of the conflict hold political office in the postwar era.

Julia Tierney is a doctoral candidate at the University of California Berkeley in city and regional planning.

Illicit Traffick in Cultural Property in Lebanon: A Diachronic Study

Currently Associate Professor at the Lebanese University and Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Dr. Assaad Seif was coordinator of the archaeological research and excavations / Head of the Scientific departments at the Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA).
Currently Associate Professor at the Lebanese University and Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Dr. Assaad Seif was coordinator of the archaeological research and excavations / Head of the Scientific departments at the Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA).

By Dr. Assaad Seif –  Antiquities, particularly ancient works of art, belong to the country in which they were produced in the past. They form an integral part of the past of the inhabitants of that country, and hence are in reality communal property forming cultural roots for the present day inhabitants. Like natural resources, cultural heritage forms anon-renewable resource base, every bit that is lost, broken or sold is a fragment of past identity removed and hence an impoverishment of today’s identity. If the loss is due to ignorance, it will be paid for by future generations whose cultural memory will have been wiped out (Seeden 1992a: 110). Download full study in pdf (illicit_traffick_in_cultural)

Leadership

Dr. Charles Malek once wrote about Leadership:

LEADERSHIP

by Dr. Charles H. Malik

I respect all men, and it is from disrespect for none that I say there are no great leaders in the world today. In fact, greatness itself is laughed to scorn. You should not be great today- you should sink yourself into the herd, you should not be distinguished from the crowd, you should simply be one of the many.

The commanding voice is lacking. The voice which speaks little, but which when it speaks, speaks with compelling moral authority- this kind of voice is not congenial to this age. The age flattens and levels down every distinction into drab uniformity. Respect for the high, the noble, the great, the rare, the specimen that appears once every hundred or every thousand years, is gone. Respect at all is gone! If you ask whom and what people do respect, the answer is literally nobody and nothing. This is simply an unrespecting age- it is the age of utter mediocrity. To become a leader today, even a mediocre leader, is a most uphill struggle. You are constantly and in every way and from every side pulled down. One wonders who of those living today will be remembered a thousand years from now- the way we remember with such profound respect Plato, and Aristotle, and Christ, and Paul, and Augustine, and Aquinas.

If you believe in prayer, my friends, and I know you do, then pray that God send great leaders, especially great leaders of the spirit.

A great leader suffers in a hundred different ways, and keeps his suffering to himself.

A great leader survives both his suffering and the fact that nobody knows anything about it.

A great leader loves being alone with God.

A great leader communes with the deepest the ages have known.

A great leader knows there is a higher and there is a lower, and he always seeks the higher, and indeed the highest.

A great leader fights against the spiritual forces of darkness and disintegration, both in his own soul and in the world.

A great leader overcomes himself, rises above himself, daily, minutely.

A great leader is very polite, but he never tones down the truth just to please others.

A great leader never seeks fanfare and publicity- they come to him, and often he rejects them.

A great leader never craves the approval of the world- in fact he often intentionally provokes its disapproval.

A great leader hitches his wagon to the remote, the unattainable, the stars.

A great leader does not worship quantity, multiplicity, perpetual motion- he stubbornly sticks to the one or at most two ultimate truths that there are.

A great leader is very simple, but the moral force of his conviction shines through every tone of his voice and every gesture of his hand.

A great leader lets the oneness of his interest burst forth with endless creativity.

A great leader is absolutely fearless- fearless because he fears only God.

A great leader loves, not sentimentally, not by making an effort, but with the effortless overflow of God’s love for him.

A great leader identifies himself with, and is not ashamed of, the deepest in his own tradition.

A great leader is never disturbed by the fact that other traditions too have their own deepest.

A great leader is decisive, yet with the utmost tentativeness and tenderness.

A great leader, under God, does not care if he is crucified- there is something he knows and sees in the distance infinitely more important than to avoid crucifixion.

A great leader knows what the Bible calls “the fullness of the time”, I mean the time in which he lives, and God gives him the grace and the power to fulfill that fullness.

You insult a leader if you call him great; he does not want your judgment; he wants only to please God.

A great leader calls forth the most secret and the most sacred impulses of those whom he leads.

A great leader leads those who are not even aware that they follow him, but only rejoice in the fact that he leads them.

A great leader is at the forefront of danger, be it physical or moral danger, when danger strikes.

A great leader heals….

And so, if we really believe, my friends, we should pray, and work together, and accept suffering and sacrifice, and we should have the courage of our convictions when it comes to the deepest we know.

For the greatest single evil today is this blanket of fear and intimidation spread all over the world, so that people do not dare to stand up for their convictions.

But nothing great has ever been accomplished in history, nor indeed can it ever be accomplished, except through fearless courage in the face of the greatest terrorization. This is the now-forgotten way of how really to live- I mean, the way of the Cross. The world needs today the unterrorized man- indeed, the unterrorizable man.

… I pray you all to consider on your knees how much God has blessed you and how much you therefore owe him.

For you owe him everything. And once we realize how much we owe God, then, since we can never give him anything commensurate in return, we can at least pay him back tears of gratitude and love.