Sunday, October 16, 2005

Partial Hall of Shame

In the spirit of changes we see taking place in Lebanon today, I thought it timely to publish information that was itself published by the "venerable" Daily Star on Saturday July 14, 2001. I had cut out that article and saved it for posterity in my little collection of "eternally interesting articles."

Most of you will remember the time Electricite du Liban (Lebanon's national electricity company) and its labor union clashed to such an extent that the union took an initiative that I believe remains without parrallel in Lebanese politics even today: they released a "Partial 'Hall of Shame'" which listed a number of high profile Lebanese individuals and institutions which owed EDL a commulative sum of around LL 1 Billion ($1 = LL 1,500 (Lebanese Lira)).

As usual, once EDL and its union patched things up, everything was swept under the carpet and no one ever heard anything about the allegations made by the union, which claimed that even higher officials have not paid bills, but were simply untouchable - hence the word "partial" in the title of their list.

The Partial Hall of Fame (note: this was published in 2001, it is an exact copy of the list published by the Daily Star)

BLUE highlights the top five debtors
OLIVE GREEN highlights members of the Khazen family

1) Beirut MP Mohammed Qabbani.....................LL15,643,300
2) Baabda MP Salah Harake................................LL7,650,000
3) Western Bekaa MP Sami Khatib....................LL58,506,950
4) Baalbek-Hermel MP Ghazi Zeaiter................LL10,953,780
5) Former MP Tala Merehbi................................LL7,723,478
6) Nabatieh MP Yassin Jaber..............................LL20,000,000
7) Nabatieh MP Abdel-Latif Zein........................LL21,000,000
8) Zahle MP Mohsen Dalloul................................LL7,871,000
9) Former Jounieh Mayor Haikal Khazen..........LL21,059,000
10) Home in Aintoura........................................LL30,266,540
11) Haikal Khazen and Butros Shehwan.............LL11,802,130
12) Haikal Khazen and frmr. MP Rusheid Khazen..LL7,485,900
13) Rusheid Khazen..........................................LL5,749,680
14) Rafik Khazen...............................................LL95,858,090

15) Beirut MP Nasser Qandil...............................LL7,011,190
16) Melhem Barakat.........................................LL27,518,516
17) Frmr. Army Comander Ibrahim Tannous...LL6,950,260
18) Notre Dame Du Liban Hospital......................LL227,861,250
19) Hospital owner Fawzi Odaimi........................LL53,919,950
20) Frmr MP Mounir Abu Fadel..........................LL15,180,666
21) Frmr MP Michel Sassine (home)...................LL54,928,600
22) Frmr MP Michel Sassine (office)...................LL720,200
23) Frmr PM Adel Osseiran.................................LL44,791,910
24) Frmr Civil Servant Lucien Dahdah..............LL22,942,640
25) Nohad Soueid Hospital....................................LL77,557,100
26) Frmr MP Abdallah Rassi.................................LL4,633,260
27) Businessman, George Milad Ghazal-Mouawad..LL14,887,250
28) SSNP official, Inaam Raad...............................LL7,523,394

The following individuals challenged the claims made by EDL's Union and, in some cases, took their complaints to the courts:

Beirut MP Qabbani
Baabda MP Harakeh
Nabatieh MP Jaber
Zahle MP Dalloul
Beirut MP Qandil
Frmr. MP Sassine
Businessman Mouawad

-- END --

Three reasons I published this post:

1. Although LL1 Billion adds up to around $667 thousand, which is relatively minor compared to the overall EDL debt, that sum of money allegedly owed to EDL in 2001 is a tremendous amount in absolute terms - especially when superimposed on the fact that a little over twenty people people owe that money.

2. The nubmers listed above (again, if true) should also help to debunk the myth that the reason EDL is in such shambles is because the desperately poor Shi'a of Southern Beirut do not pay their utility bills. The habit of not respecting state institutions and accepting citizen obligations permeates all segments of society - especially the elite.

3. I want closure. Developments in Lebanon have a habbit of leaving spectators hanging! As I said in the beginning of this entry, I hope the apparently new spirit of reform we are seeing today will tackle some of the toughest issues that haunt us, such as the one highlighted above.

10 comments:

Lazarus said...

Raja -

Thank you for this post. Somethings should not be ignored. Such a shame.

Anonymous said...

1. Although LL1 Billion adds up to around $667 million, which...

you mean thousands

Hassan said...

Raja,

Thanks for this.
Is Haykal Khazen the father of Farid? I know he is Farid Haykal Khazen but is it the same Haykal?

And Melhem Barakat!!!???

Raja said...

Hassan, I was surprized with the Melhem barakat thing. but with the khazens, I was wondering whether Farid was related to any of the individuals listed. Maybe Haykal is his father.

Anon, thanks for the pointer. I've made the correction.

Doha said...

I think that this list is timely because Information Minister Hamadeh is contemplating releasing a hall of shame for politicians and prominent figures who have not paid or refuse to pay their cell phone bills.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Raja,

This list was partial and published for political reasons, it doesn’t really reflect the reality. It only focuses on the politicians and it avoids talking about the smaller guys who represent the bulk of the problem. The Christians that are mentioned are people with 'relations', and they do not represent the ordinary Christian man.

Bottom line is that the missing money is equal to the number of people times the money they owe, and the number of people that are not paying is relatively low in the Christian areas. Most of the electricity is ‘disappearing’ in poor Shia neigbourhoods, and these persons are not likely to appear in this 'big shot' list.

You'll see more Christian people/institutions institution on that list because the few Christian who don't pay tend to be important people and therefore they have big bills. I can assure you that if normal families like mine stop paying the electricity bills, they will be cut off.

I once said that a few Christian areas like Zghorta are not paying their bills, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The majority of the people that are avoiding to pay their bills are living in poor Shia neighbourhoods (which does not apply for all the Shias, I was told that Chiyah is OK). It’s dishonest from you to try to picture the situation like this.

If you feel that there’s an injustice because the Christians are taking advantage of the system, well make everybody pay. If what you say is true, the Shia community is subsidizing the Christian community, and they should be happy of ending this injustice.

I only think that it’s strange that the Hezbollah is protecting a system where Christians are being subsidized by the other communities. Is it possible that the Hezbollah isn’t a sectarian party and that I got the wrong idea about them?

Raja said...

Vox,

my intent was to highlight that a significant segment of the "elite" was apparently not paying their bills (whatever their sect). The reason I highlighted the Khazen family is because there were four or five of them - I even considered consolidating them into one. If there were five hariris or joumblatts, I would have done the same exact thing.

You are right to claim that the Shi'a community in Ouza'i doesn't pay its bills. Studies and anecdotal evidence prove that the majority of houses in Ouzai' don't even have meters. But don't forget that the situation is more complex than it appears. The legal status of Ouza'i's residents, for example, is definitely in question. Wouldn't installing meters in their home imply defacto recognition of their legality by the state?

Furthermore, considering that the Ouzai' residents are some of the poorest individuals in Lebanon, do you not think that a solution ought to be much more comprehensive than simply billing them, or kicking them out of their homes? Maybe comprehensive social programs for all of Lebanon's poor (including poor Shi'a) would not only solve some of these problems, but also increase the state's legitmacy and decrease the power of parties like Hizballah and individuals like Jumblatt.

Back to my main point: Lebanon's problem is one that permeates all levels of society (horizontal and vertical). The list of debtors to EDL that I posted in this entry was simply intended to highlight that point. Scapegoating the Shi'a community in Ouzai will only allow big shots to get away with their criminal behavior. This is not a sectarian issue, it is one of elite incompetency and malintent towards state institutions.

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

Raja,

you raise the interesting topic of poverty in Lebanon. It’s a topic that we tend to neglect because the political problems are more pressing then the social ones. Nevertheless it’s an important issue and I feel that we should discuss it more frequently.


I know that most people in Ouzai can't pay their bills and that they came to Beirut because they were forced to leave south Lebanon because of the conflict between Palestinians and Israel. It’s not their fault if they are poor and it’s obvious that I don’t blame them for that.


I think that the state should help the poorest segment of the population, but this must be done through sound fiscal policies. The way you tax the country’s wealth and the way you redistribute it has an important impact on the economy, and you must do this in the most efficient way.


First of all, it’s the poor people that need help : not all poor people are Shias and not all Shias are poor. Don’t forget that people from all sects were displaced and that you have plenty of refugees in Christian neighbourhoods like Karm el Zeitoun or Burj Hammoud. There may be a correlation between sect and wealth, but it’s not an absolute correlation. With the current system, poor Christians in Achrafieh are paying their electricity bills, and mid-income Shia families living in some areas are not. This is absurd. The criterion that must be used is the income, not geographic location or sectarian criteria.


Also, social justice is not EDL’s job; it’s the role of the state. I’d rather have the state helping poor people pay part of their electrical bill instead of EDL. It may be the same thing to these families at the end, but from a fiscal point of view it’s not. For various reasons, EDL needs to be completely and partially privatized and cannot continue to operate like that.


There’s no welfare system that cover 100% of your bills because such a system would encourage an inefficient use of the resources. In France for example, the state pays up to 90% of the price of your medication (except for rare and extreme cases). Medical consultation used to be free but now they cost one euro because some people were abusing the system and this small price act as a deterrent against those who try to abuse the system. Similarly, if the Lebanese state wants to help poor people in paying their electricity bills it must not pay 100% of the bill. The poor people must be made aware that the electricity is being produced at a certain cost; otherwise they might abuse the system and keep their electrical appliances turned on 24 hours on 24.


EDL cannot continue like this. It can’t buy enough fuel and it’s not generating enough electricity, which harms the economy because energy production is essential to the economy. Electrical shortages are really bad for the country. The use of generators is not efficient and does not compensate for the shortages and this lead to a lot of wasting.

All this is theoretically speaking of course. You need to take into account that a Scandinavian social security cannot be achieved in a bankrupted state. At the end, the only way fight against poverty is to develop the economy. I am aware that we must find a compromise between growth and social spending but I think that everybody will agree when I say that you can’t finance a welfare system by getting into debt, this is not sustainable and will lead to an economical catastrophe. Too much inequality kills democracy but too much welfare kills the economy.

If you're interested, I posted a more complete answer on my blog here

Ahmad said...

You should have been more accurate. As you had already mentioned, MP Salah Harake filed a claim against the person who leaked this false information. Fearing prosecution, this person visited MP Harake at his office with a group of representatives from the Employee's Union and apologized. Only then did MP Salah Harake retrieve his claim against the person who gave this false information (I have his name but don't want to publish it for his personal reputation)

MP HARAKE DIDN'T HAVE ANY UNPAID DUES AT THAT TIME. THIS IS WHY I ASK THE PUBLISHER OF THIS BLOG TO RETRIEVE THE NAME OF MP SALAH HARAKE FROM THIS LIST.