The following article was originally published on March 23, 2011, on Tajaddod Youth’s Official Blog.
People walking in Downtown Beirut, around Nejmeh Square would notice that work is taking place in the Parliament building. For the last few months, Members of Parliament have been using the parliamentary library to convene in committee meetings. They even had one plenary session there. Otherwise, Lebanese citizens have not really felt any difference, since the Parliament has never impressed us as a very dynamic and productive body, especially in times of political crisis. No Cabinet meetings, no Parliament meetings; but even when the Cabinet was (at least constitutionally up and running), there was only a handful of Parliament meetings, knowing that Speaker Berri’s shelves are full of bills and draft laws that he did not feel like submitting to discussion or vote.
On July 15th 2010 though, the Lebanese Parliament authorized itself to spend LBP 20 billion (= USD 13.3 million), as a Treasury “advance payment” (سلفة خزينة) to restore the Parliament building.
At a time when political forces were bickering about government spending above and beyond the constitutional “provisional twelfth rule” (القاعدة الاثني عشرية), at a time when Speaker Berri himself was wondering how the government spent USD 11 billion more than the Constitution allows, Speaker Berri had no problem authorizing such an expenditure
Was there any independent study confirming the need for such works, at such costs?
Was there any transparent tender process to attibute the restoration market?
How did the Parliament even figure out the USD 13.3 million figure?
What about the never-used electronic voting system that UNDP introduced in the mid 1990s? Was it destroyed? Was it stored? Will it be replaced?
USD 13.3 million is what we need to turn two thirds of all Lebanese public schools accessible for people with disabilities.
USD 1.8 million is what we need to organize expatriate voting in the 2013 elections. And this, according to Speaker Berri and the Amal Movement Foreign Minister Ali Chami, is expensive.
According to the Ministry of Finance reports, the Government spends only USD 29 million a year to restore and maintain the Lebanese University buildings and equipments. So, to revamp the Parliament building, we are paying half of what we spend to maintain buildings for 100,000 Lebanese students.
Guess what, USD 13.3 million is exactly what the Government pays for the country’s public transportation infrastructure. USD 14.7 million go to supporting agriculture exports.
Need more? The 2010 draft Budget law allocated USD 12.7 million as the total annual budget of the Ministry of Tourism, USD 4.7 million for the Ministry of Environment, and USD 4 million for the Ministry of Industry.
When one looks at these figures, concerns about misuse of funds – at best – easily arise.