Social Media Icons

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Youtube

Quarries determined by ‘politics,’ not environment

05 February 2001

The Daily Star

Maha Al-Azar Daily Star staff

Quarry licensing is influenced by politics, making it had for regulations           to be applied regardless of owners’ political connections, environmental           and industry experts said over the weekend.

Allegations of political influence over the controversial industry           were made by numerous participants at a conference on the industry           at the Order of Engineers and Architects headquarters in Jnah on Saturday.

However, the most striking admissions came from Environment Ministry           director-general Berj Hatjian, who reported that during previous Environment           Minister Arthur Nazarian’s term, he was “compelled” to approve permit           requests for two environmentally unsound quarries, “because they were           already authorized by the Cabinet.” “Out of 52 permit applications,           I had to approve two that didn’t meet the requirements. I also approved           three others that did, and I rejected 47,” he said.

When asked why he didn’t reject the two, Hatjian said: “I couldn’t.           They were approved by the Cabinet.” Hatjian also admitted that there           was no guarantee a master plan managing quarries would treat all quarry           owners equitably.

Environmentalists admitted to such an obstacle, but said the only           way out was by the public keeping a vigilant eye over government decisions.           “The only way to ensure that a quarry management plan is applied equitably           is for people to get out on the streets and protest every time the           rules are broken,” said Ali Darwish of Green Line, a local environmental           organization that organized the conference with the support of the           ministry.

Yehia Jaber, secretary-general of the Quarry Owners Association, claimed           that the campaign against quarries intended to shut down “small investors’           quarries, which constitute 85 percent of all quarries, for the benefit           of big investors who are well-connected with influential government           officials.” Participants also criticized the government for issuing           so-called “administrative deadlines” instead of real permits.

The deadlines are effectively short-term renewable permits that enable           quarries to bypass inspection and defy regulations.

“If quarries are eligible for permits, then why aren’t real permits           issued instead of these administrative deadlines?” asked Fadwa Kallab,           an environmental economist and activist. For Jaber, the answer was           simple. “The Interior Ministry (under the former government) issued           these short-term permits to fill up its empty coffers from the fees           it could collect on these permits.”

Statistics on the industry are unclear. A 1995 study found 229 quarries           in Lebanon , of which only 129 were legal, according to Adel Yacoub           of the Environment Ministry’s Department of Nature Conservation. But           Jaber said that in 1997, the number of quarries shrunk to 71, while           Edward Bahouth, representing the Order, said that in 1996, field visits           showed there were 570 rock quarries and more than 250 sand quarries.

Participants also complained that a quarry master plan first proposed           in 1997 is still under wraps. “No one really knows if it has been approved           or not,” said Salman Abbas from Green Line. “We’ve requested it from           various ministries, but no one could produce it.” Abbas stated that           “politicians want to keep it secret so they can use it according to           their own interests. If they release it, they’ll be bound to follow           it, whereas now, no one knows exactly where quarrying is permitted.”

The conference ended with participants urging that the master plan           be unveiled and that Parliament’s Environment Committee publicize its           agenda. Recommendations also included passing a bill that would require           an environmental impact assessment prior to any projects and empowering           the Environment Ministry, whose recommendations are currently only           consultative and non-binding

Comments are closed.