Thursday, August 11, 2005

Oooh... Political Scandals and Good Coverage

Is this a sign of a revitalized political landscape? The dailystar has just published two articles that broach on subjects pertaining to the wheelings and dealings of politicians and businessmen.

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.
You'd think that everything would stop there since the newspaper has basically helped Hariri & Co by bashing Qordahi, but they don't.... In the last segment of the article they take the initiative to contact someone they percieved as neutral: an almost forgotten Telecommunication Minister who reveals even more scandalous material...

[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!


Anonymous said...

This is just the tip of the iceberg.Marwan Hamade probably regrets poking into this
bees nest.

Raja said...

I guess this will be the litmus test for Lebanon's "new era". Let's see how far the cell pone issue will go!

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I live near Sin el Fil and the last time I saw low-altitude planes in that area was on October 13 1990, when Syria's air force expelled Aoun! Since then, nada!

But I do understand why this hotel has suddenly become a problem for the planes (like the planes cannot fly 20 meters higher!). It seems like we have a St-George II story affair.

Does somebody remember about the Sanine mega project that was anounced 3 years ago? It only got the final authorizations last year, just after Hariri left the government. And it's not a coincidence.

I really hoped that Saad Hariri would be different from his father. I am really disappointed to see that he's trying to sabotage a mega-investment simply because he's not part of it. Lebanon cannot afford to lose the little investement it receives because of Saad el Hariri's ego. Mr. Lebanon Junior seems to think that he owns Lebanon.

mic said...

I went and read the article, and found this hilarious:

"everbody knows that the one who had the final decision was ... security apparatuses who violated the laws upon the oders of higher authorities".

Basically, if you have a point to make, whether your current stance is correct or not, you can automatially negate the past decisions by blaming the higher authorities.

And Vox Populi, I agree with you. It is a real shame.

hummbumm said...

by the way did you see Gebran Tueni op ed in naharnet. Way to go, stating the obvious and painting Hizbullah in a rhetorical corner.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I am not saying that this government is bad, it has implemented good policies until now. But there's room for improvement.

Abu Kais said...

FYI Rami Khoury is not involved in the Lebanon edition of the Daily Star. The articles mentioned hardly qualify as good investigative journalism, in my opinion at least.

Raja said...

well manfromsoas, they are definitely a step up from the usual rubbish!

Raja said...

and thanks for th FYI on rami.

Khaled said...

My Dear VOX,
I dont know from where you get your news, But I can assure you that Martyr hariri was the one pushing for Zenith Lybnan project; while others started accusing him of selling Lebanon to the Arabs......

Just a small point....

Khaled said...

Dear Mic,
The security Apparatus Qabani referred to is Murr, do you know of the famous 24 hours bill?

This bill was passed when he was minister of Interior and allowed his buildings at monteverdy (forgot the exact name) to go more than 20 floors..
So a similar 24 hours bill was done by Murr for Habtour.

PS: it is the interior Minister who issues the building permits.. ant not the Prime minister

barney said...

There was another sentence in the story entitled: "LibanCell enters mobile phone scandal fray", which I also read in the news section of the website "FOR LEBANON"( That sentence is: "And former Telecom Minister Issam Noman defended himself, saying it was a tradition for telecom ministers who leave their post to keep a personal mobile line at the expense of the state." A TRADITION!! Since when has dishonesty become a tradition? ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS LEBANON SHOULD DO IS TO MAKE TOP ADMINISTRATORS AND MPs TAKE A COURSE IN HONESTY AND ETHICS! They should then severely punish the next several people they find with their fingers in the till, and hopefully all others would get the message.

This cell phone scandal would be a good place to start an anti-corruption campaign as part of the governmental recovery from the BSY (the BAD SYRIAN YEARS!)

Another sentence from the same story: "It said the number of lines that were put at the disposal of the ministry before pro-Syrian Nomani and Kordahi took office, after Hariri left, was seventy, and during their tenure shot up to 445. It said one hundred lines were ordered by Kordahi during municipal elections. " Now, you might think that 70 phones might sound reasonable, but the truth is that there is no such thing as a little graft. Accept just a small amount of graft, and it will grow exponentially! You must make up your mind, HONESTY or CORRUPTION; just like pregnancy, there is no such thing as a little bit of corruption!


Khaled said...

The 70 phones were in use with Ogero and not with any political figure.. the deal between the two companies and the governmant was that each company give OGERO (and not politicians) 75 lines to be used for technical reasons by Ogero Technicians an employees, such as monitoring perfomrance of the network and other stuff..

During Hariri's time they were not abused; however, in Noaman and others.. these turned to be gifts given to their supports and allies.. i.e. if a minster is ingood terms with Lahoud he gets a free line.. like minister Rizk's line (076076) for example.. and so on

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

'my' information was largely available in the medias at the time. Zenith was openly supported by Lahoud with haririst criticizing the project, but I am really not surprised that you don't acknowledge this.