Lebanon set to repeat past mistakes
We are being governed incompetently. 2015 proved that. Not only did the government’s handling of waste management allow one of the country’s worst environmental disasters to unfold, but it is replicating bad decisions it made nearly 20 years ago. In 1997, the cabinet gave one local company a monopoly on most of the nation’s waste without a competitive tender. As 2015 came to a close, the cabinet was set to simply split that monopoly between two international firms, again without a competitive tender. But for double the price. Worse, the alleged will to let municipalities handle their own garbage announced in September 2015 has yet to translate into action, meaning that if this temporary solution is truly temporary, rotting trash on the streets will be back in fashion for summer 2017.
It’s important to remember that the great “trash crisis” of 2015 actually started with a government decision in early 2014 to close the nation’s largest sanitary landfill. While there was nothing wrong with the decision to shutter the landfill, the blunders soon began piling up like so many uncollected bags of garbage. First and foremost, a ministerial committee tasked in early 2014 with finding a replacement for the Naameh landfill failed spectacularly. The plan this committee eventually settled on consisted of dividing the country into six service zones and tendering waste management in those zones to private companies. Bidding did not open until late in the first quarter of 2015, meaning that even if the tenders were successful, winning companies could not have had replacements for Naameh constructed before the landfill closed. Further, the plan once again would have given one contractor (admittedly a consortia of local and international companies) in each zone full control of waste management, which is not standard international practice and arguably the main grievance against Averda, parent company of waste managers Sukleen and Sukomi.
On top of that, the tender conditions were outrageous. The contracts were slated to last seven years, yet winners were expected to: 1) secure land on which to build waste management facilities; 2) build and operate those facilities; and 3) decrease landfilling from around 80 percent of the total waste stream to 40 percent in the first three years and to 25 percent thereafter. Land in Lebanon is expensive. Capital expenditure on technologies needed to decrease landfilling can cost millions, and resident opposition to waste management facilities “in my backyard” is high. Every private sector player Executive spoke to about the tenders — including those who ultimately submitted offers — said the tenders seemed designed to fail. Executive has not been able to discern exactly how the tender conditions were formulated, but Parliament should do its job and question all involved in an open, televised session. The legislature has this authority, as