12 October 2002
Maha Al-Azar Daily Star
Although the Cabinet decision to shut down quarries was met with criticism and skepticism, Environment Minister Michel Musa insisted Friday that the decision would be implemented in full and that violations would be stopped. A Cabinet decision issued last week restricted quarrying to four areas in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range along the border with Syria .
“Only the Cabinet is eligible to examine permits for quarrying outside the specified areas,” said the Cabinet decree, dated Oct. 7. This clause made many environmentalists and quarry owners uneasy about the extent to which wasta, or personal connections, would play a role in obtaining permits.
“We see this (clause) as a loophole that would give those with a bigger wasta an upper hand in getting permits,” said Ali Darwish, a Green Line environmental activist.
But during a news conference Musa insisted that “no one will be able to obtain a permit for a new quarry without the Cabinet’s decision … and only after the Higher Council for Quarries and Crushers, headed by the Environment Minister, would have approved it.” He added that violators would be fined and stopped, but said that as of yet, no violations have been reported.
Although he would not specify how many police patrols were monitoring the closure of quarries, Musa called on citizens to “alert the qaimaqam, the public prosecutors” of any violations.
But Yahia Jaber, the secretary of the Owners of Quarries and Crushers Association, told The Daily Star that he was not surprised to hear news reports that some quarries had continued to operate. “I don’t blame these people (continuing to operate quarries),” he said, “(because) this decision is a death penalty for some 21,000 families. It is a direct attack on their livelihoods.”
These families, said Jaber, include those directly affected by the ban, like truck drivers, contractors, factory and site workers, as well as those whose businesses rely on the quarries sector, like the small delicatessens that sell food to workers or the diesel sector, which sells a large part of its fuel to quarries that run their power generators and trucks on diesel.
“These people are unskilled laborers. They don’t have much choice in finding alternative employment,” he said. “What can they do sell chewing gum?” Some 56 quarries and crushers were affected by the new ban, added Jaber. “Even if they want to relocate their quarries, that would cost between $200,000 and $300,000, and could take up to one year. So what are people to do in the meantime?” he said.
Jaber also claimed that some areas that are part of the quarry masterplan could not be reached by land from Lebanon . “Others are not eligible for quarrying because they consist of rock that could be used for decorative purposes,” he said. “The main goal is to import rock and sand.”
Green Line’s Ali Darwish, criticized the quarry ban, saying: “Every time we ask the government to organize a sector, it ends up banning it.” Darwish added that instead of specifying a region for quarrying and enforcing strict standards before granting permits to new quarries, the government resorted to a ban leaving quarry owners no alternatives. “Who will be controlling implementation?” he said.
Darwish and Jaber both said that “influential” people were planning to create a company to import rock and sand and will be making profit out of such an enterprise. Although neither could name the “influential” people, Darwish noted that both Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh have stakes in cement factories.