Dissecting a waste empire
How Lebanese governments created a trash monopoly
While everyone in Lebanon — from taxi drivers to elected officials — “knows” the country’s largest waste manager is as dirty as the trash it collects, when pressed for proof, they have little to offer. Indeed, even questioning the “fact” that Sukleen — and, by extension, parent company Averda — is corrupt will likely get you dismissed as a knownothing. Breaking the near absolute silence the company has maintained since it began operations in Lebanon in the early 1990s, Averda Chief Executive Officer Malek Sukkar opens up to Executive in a two-hour interview after facilitating tours of the company’s operations in Abu Dhabi and Lebanon. Questions about the private, family-founded company remain — most notably concerning their yearly profits — but months of investigation suggest there is more government negligence than corporate wrongdoing to the Averda story.
Maysarah Sukkar moved his engineering company, founded in 1968, to Saudi Arabia after the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon. The work Sukkar secured in the kingdom included the operation and maintenance of two slaughterhouse waste incinerators in Mecca. “We had a lot of expertise in that specific technology of incineration,” Maysarah’s son Malek Sukkar says, recalling the company’s entry into the Lebanese market. That experience led the company to bid for a contract in post-war Lebanon to finish building and test-operate a trash incinerator then-located in Amrousiyeh. According to documentation provided by Averda, Sukkar Engineering beat France’s INOR (a company whose name has since changed to Inova) in a competitive bid to complete the project which INOR had taken on in the late 1980s. The contract’s value, Averda says, was $1.752 million. This was the proverbial foot in the door for Sukkar Engineering, which by 1994
THERE IS MORE GOVERNMENT NEGLIGENCE THAN CORPORATE WRONGDOING TO THE
1996, and the Ministry of Environment — under then–Minister Akram Chehayeb — banned waste incineration in 1997. The end of incineration, however, did not mean a halt to publicly financed work for Averda in Lebanon. Sukleen had been collecting waste in the capital and its suburbs since 1994, and the closure of the incinerators brought Averda more business.
Lebanon’s infrastructure in the 1990s was in shambles. In 1993, the World Bank loaned the country $175 million for what was supposed to be three years of “emergency reconstruction and rehabilitation” work. One of the loan’s many targets was developing waste management systems across the country. The solid waste component of the loan was later excised from the main project to become a project of