Coming Sukleen

by Executive Contributor

After protests outside their Lebanon plant and activist allegations of corruption, the CEO of Averda gives his first ever interview to a media organization. Little known by name in Lebanon, Averda
is a waste management company founded in 1993 by Lebanese engineer Maysarah Sukkar. It is the parent company of Sukleen and Sukomi. Maysarah’s son, Malek, has been a top manager since the company’s inception, and today leads the company as it continues an expansion abroad that
began a few years ago. Contracted by the government to collect, treat and dispose of Beirut’s waste in the early 1990s, Sukleen and Sukomi — which even Sukkar refers to collectively as Sukleen, a play on the family name — the companies quickly took on more municipalities in Lebanon and have
been handling waste in the capital and all of the Mount Lebanon governorate (except Jbail) for around 20 years. Previously media shy, Malek Sukkar sits with Executive to talk about the waste crisis and his reaction to Sukleen’s many critics.


How do you respond to accusations
that have been leveled recently in Lebanon against Sukleen and your
family in context of the escalating garbage crisis?

The nicest way I can describe this is that we understand the need to find
someone who can be held responsible. We are not responsible, but we
are the easiest people who they can try to [blame]. We understand the
frustration but [what Sukleen is being accused of] is unfair and unfounded.

Have any of the organizations or parties with interests in this
controversy reached out to you asking for your response or comments on this

No. It is shocking, but no.

Were you surprised that the emergency plan which was announced
on September 9 has not seen the beginning of implementation within
the seven weeks that have passed until the first literal garbage flood on
October 25?

Honestly, I am surprised because I thought that the change of which minister
handled the file would be based on some sort of agreement that had
been reached in the Council of Ministers. I am not privy to what happened
[with regards to] the actual execution but I am surprised by the delay because
this is a critical service. It is not a nice-to-have service like super fast
WiFi versus regular WiFi. Taking care of our garbage is a bare necessity and
this has always been my worry as a human being, not as someone who is
involved in this file.

Can you be more specific about why the situation worries you personally?
I remember a story from Harvard Business Review from some years ago.
It said that there is always a danger that your strength becomes your weakness. The Lebanese government relies on the resilience of the people. Every Lebanese has three different power sources and several different water sources. The resilience that this has built up is what I am afraid
people will develop [because of] the waste issue. The scene that we [saw on October 25] of the floating garbage may become something that we are used to, and that would be the absolute worst outcome. We got used to mobile telephones where calls cut after about 20 seconds or so; we got
used to not having electricity. People still get angry but there is a used-to -it-ness and it is my worry that the longer this thing takes to get sorted out, the more this resilience gene might come out where people would say we can also survive without waste management. That, to me, is the worst possible outcome.

Do you think that the emergency plan has the potential for dealing with the issue at least for a year or two?
The emergency plan is fairly straightforward. What it [calls for] is a development of the waste services [to municipalities] and for doing that over 18 months. That is a wise process because you can’t go from zero to 100 all at once. From a high-level view I think this makes sense. What I think
worries people is the question if there is something that will happen within these 18 months, or will this be a period that will require another 18 months and then another 18 months [of emergency management]. This is probably the tougher question. Only the municipalities know because they will have to pick up the baton and run with it.

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Executive Contributor

The author of this article asked for anonymity to be able to write freely on the topic.

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