New Lebanon government must ‘tackle corruption’

Country needs administration that can fight graft, says German minister

President Michel Aoun (right) meets German foreign minister Heiko Maas at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the Lebanese capital. Photograph: Dalati/Nohra/Getty

President Michel Aoun (right) meets German foreign minister Heiko Maas at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the Lebanese capital. Photograph: Dalati/Nohra/Getty

 

Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.

Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly explosive material killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.

“It is impossible that things go on as before,” foreign minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”

“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance.”

The resignation of prime minister Hassan Diab’s government has deepened uncertainty. His cabinet’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already stalled over internal differences about the scale of financial losses.

Forming a new government could be daunting amid factional rifts and growing public discontent with a ruling class that many Lebanese brand as responsible for the country’s woes.

The foreign ministers of Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed on Wednesday on the importance of creating “beneficial external conditions” for the formation of a new Lebanese government, said the Russian foreign ministry.

Humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not provide funds to help pull Lebanon from economic collapse without action on long-demanded reforms.

Mr Aoun has promised a swift investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures.

Reuters reported that the president and prime minister were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.

The presidency said on Wednesday that as soon as Mr Aoun received a state security report on the ammonium nitrate on July 20th, the president’s military consultant instructed the secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council to “do the necessary”.

He later tweeted estimated losses from the blast exceed $15 billion (€13 billion), a bill Lebanon cannot pay given its financial crisis.

Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese said the state had abandoned them.

“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta (74), whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were injured.

On the phone amid the rubble of a destroyed traditional building in the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood in Beirut. Photograph: Getty
On the phone amid the rubble of a destroyed traditional building in the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood in Beirut. Photograph: Getty

A donor conference raised pledges of nearly €253 million for immediate relief. Mr Maas gave a cheque for more than €1 million to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of €20 million in humanitarian aid from Germany.

Financial aid

The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.

Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.

“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”

Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighbourhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.

Nagy Massoud (70) was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to controls prompted by the economic crisis.

“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment. – Reuters

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