1. Officials scramble to explain free cell lines
2. Qabbani says al-Habtoor hotel endangering air traffic
The scandals are not so new. We've heard about the cell phone issue over and over again. It is the first time the Habtoor issue has been brought up, and I have the sneaky suspicion that Qabbani is not being 100% forthcoming with his motives. What is new, actually, is that the usually conservative (and tow-the-line) Daily Star coverage has all of a sudden become a little more interesting. These two articles present the opinions of all the concerned parties for the first time in a very long time (as far as I can remember).
This new development could be the result of two reasons: The first is that Rami Khouri (Daily Star's editor) has become a little more gung ho. The second is that more people are now willing to speak and actually give the dailystar a story. I guess this new vitality could be a consequence of both. But anyways, here's a concrete example of what I'm talking about.
In the article concerning cell phones, the dailystar reported that:
Claims published by a Kuwaiti newspaper that 300 cellular lines were provided for free to Lebanese and Syrian officials have created a wave of reactions, with those accused of squandering public money angrily denouncing the allegations. Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade had said Tuesday that he had cancelled "hundreds of mobile phone lines given free of charge to several Lebanese and Syrian security services, which cost the Treasury $6 million a year."Then the newspaper juices the story up as it has never done before. First, a statement by former minister Qordahi...
Earlier this week, former Telecommunications Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi issued a statement saying the free lines were made available under an agreement worked out by former Premier Rafik Hariri with companies Cellis and LibanCell.Then a rebuttal from Liban Cell (I really liked this, and don't think there is a similar precedent at least in Daily Star reporting anyway):
LibanCell issued a statement responding to Qordahi, saying: "LibanCell is sorry the minister has to involve the company in his political conflicts every time he feels embarrassed."Then LibanCell continues (pretty gutsy, don't you think?)...
The statement said no more than 70 lines were put at the disposal of the ministry when former Telecommunications Minister Issam Neaman took over the ministry. It added that on April 2004, there were 445 lines at the disposal of the minister, including 100 requested by the minister for two weeks coinciding with the municipal elections period. The statement said LibanCell has no link with the way lines are distributed.
[Issam Neaman] also revealed that between 1998 and 2000, he reported to judicial authorities that "several phone lines were provided for free to persons who did not occupy any function as official administration."
"Investigations showed that mobile phone companies distributed over four thousand free phone numbers and paid no fees to the government for these numbers," he said, adding the case is still "unresolved."
All I can say is that I enjoyed reading a Dailystar article for the first time in a long time. Thank you Raed El Rafei for writing it. Thank you Rami Khouri for publishing it. Thank you Liban Cell and Issam Neaman for speaking up. Thank you Lebanese people (and Int'l Community) for kicking the Syrians out!