Lebanese health minister vows to take airport violators to court

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Lebanese Health Ministry Wael Abu Faour. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Eva Shoufi

Published Friday, December 26, 2014

It seems that the “scandal” announced by Public Health Minister Wael Abu Faour on Wednesday, December 24, which involves expired goods found in warehouses and refrigerators at Rafik Hariri International Airport, will not be overlooked. According to Abu Faour, the issue will be addressed in a serious manner through legal means.

It is no longer enough to denounce food safety violators. Abu Faour was initially convinced that announcing the names of violators in the media is the best weapon. However, in order for the campaign to be effective, it has now become necessary to move toward accountability and legal prosecution.

The file concerning violations at the airport was transferred to the Public Prosecution, leading to an exchange of blame between the Ministry of Finance – which placed the responsibility on the Middle East Airport Services (MEAS) – and the company headed by MP Ghazi Youssef, which denied its responsibility for the goods found in refrigerators.

Abu Faour referred to the “raid” conducted by former Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi at the airport years ago, saying that the measures taken at the time were not enforced because officials were not held accountable. As a result, Abu Faour is “determined to take the issue to court to end the manipulation of people’s health by some who are accumulating large fortunes.” Abu Faour has ordered the ​​“closure of the waste depot” – i.e. five refrigerators and a freezer in which imported goods were kept – and the confiscation of all goods found in the airport’s refrigerators until the responsible sides and violations are determined by the judiciary. For now, two refrigerators belonging to Trans Mediterranean Airways (TMA) – which have been detected and found to meet the specifications – will be used until the closed refrigerators are reconditioned.

Abu Faour pointed out that the goods will only be discharged after examination, and that non-conforming ones will be disposed of. He said that spoiled meat will be disposed of and prevented from entering the country, as it has been shown that more than 50 percent of the meat in Lebanon is imported and does not meet the required specifications. This raises many questions about the meat that has been passing through the airport, despite a previous confirmation by Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb that non-conforming imported goods are not allowed into the country.

As for the drugs that were found in refrigerators and vaccines placed along with waste, they have been uncovered and sorted. Abu Faour confirmed that he will closely follow up on the issue to ensure the safety of medicines, adding that necessary measures will be taken to prevent any potential threat to the health of citizens. He expressed concern over the findings and hoped that the worst has already been brought to light. He said that many mafias benefit greatly due to the absence of control.

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil was notified by Abu Faour to hold goods such as fish, medicine, and meat at the airport until they are examined, and to release those that are in good condition.

Minister of Public Works Ghazi Zaiter was also asked to take all necessary measures at the airport “in the hope that it would serve as a deterrent for previous violators.”

Abu Faour promised observers and staff that “in the beginning of the year, adjustments will be made to all matters relating to financial rewards and overtime.”

“Those who are active on the ground will stay, but those who are not working will go,” he said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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