After political troubles, Tripoli faces economic punishment

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Al-Akhbar Management

Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli has historically suffered from economic deprivation and neglect. Although many people claim to represent Tripoli, including ministers in Tammam Salam’s government, the cabinet recently cut $60 million of funds allocated for development projects in the city.

Last week, the Lebanese government cut off $60 million of funds previously allocated to three development projects in Tripoli, pushing citizens to doubt the promises that they had received [from the government] following the recent round of clashes.

Ashraf Rifi, Rachid Derbas and Alice Chabtini, the cabinet ministers from Tripoli, expressed their dismay after their colleagues rejected funding the three projects meant to promote economic recovery in the city.

These projects included building a railway linking Tripoli’s port to the Syrian border, establishing a 550,000 m2 land reclamation project near the port to set up a free trade zone, and establishing an underground public transportation station in al-Tal region in downtown Tripoli.

Following the cabinet meeting, Derbas was dismayed at the government decision and expressed “extreme bitterness,” saying “postponing such projects belittles the rights of this struggling city, and suggests that some parties wish to push Tripoli back into the cycle of chaos and violence.”

Informed sources highlighted that the previous government headed by former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Tripoli native, which also had four ministers from the city, “failed to execute about $100 million worth of projects.”

According to these sources, current Tripoli ministers affiliated with the March 14 alliance seem incapable to get a cabinet resolution to sponsor these projects in the near future.

The sources pointed out former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to allocate $4 million to embellish facades in Syria’s street in Bab al-Tabbaneh, saying that such an amount “is hardly enough to buy half of an apartment in downtown Beirut,” adding that Hariri, just a few years ago, “donated $50 million to establish a hospital carrying his father’s name in Balamand University.”

Meanwhile, sources close to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, urged people “to distance Tripoli’s projects from politics,” explaining that “only $5 million were used from the $100 million, which was allocated to execute well studied projects in the city, because the government’s resignation blocked the implementation of the plans.”

In this framework, Tripoli MP Mohammed Kabbara strongly criticized the authorities, further hinting at a rift with the Future Movement. In a statement yesterday, Kabbara asked “why is Tripoli being punished? Is Tripoli being punished in peacetime because it did not yield during war? Why is the government preventing the city from rising out of its social and economic misery?”

“Tripoli is bigger than any [type of] persecution and the city knows quite well that it is being punished,” Kabbara stressed.

Meanwhile, Future Movement sources claimed that Kabbara, also known as Abu al-Abed, was upset that he wasn’t appointed a minister and he recently rejected 300 aid vouchers worth 200,000 Lebanese liras ($133) each, from a total amount of $ 2 million allocated by the Future Movement to assist families affected by the recent clashes.

Leading economic figures in Tripoli also regret the government decision to postpone the projects. In an interview with Al-Akhbar, treasurer of the Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Chamber in Tripoli, Toufic Dabboussi, said the city “has important economic facilities that would enable it to support the whole national economy,” calling upon “partners in the country to treat Tripoli as such.”

“Tripoli can attract investments and provide job opportunities,” he stressed, describing the recent decision as “a misunderstanding that we hope the government would overcome in its next session.” Dabboussi also warned of isolation “as each region is seeking to get its own projects, while the government has to sponsor promising projects all over the country.”

Meanwhile, director of Tripoli’s port, Ahmed Tamer, hoped to “receive funding for the land reclamation project to establish a free-trade zone,” saying it will be “a huge step forward for the port and is expected to bring in investments and provide new job opportunities.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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