There I was, at Orchid beach in Jiyyeh, when I saw our finance minister eating a salad (perhaps to demonstrate that our ministers stay in shape while putting our country to right). He was sitting with the resort’s developer and extolling the glories of the modern Lebanese tourist industry. Where else, the minister asked, could one find such a location? Where else could one get this standard of service, food, facilities and ambiance? Although the minister’s misty-eyed patriotism was no doubt clouding his view, we might excuse him; Lebanon has come a long way in recent years.
Or has it? Later that day, I carried my beach chair to the shallow water to enjoy the sunset as I always do, only to find that the sand had disappeared. Gone. Vanished. Not just on my spot, but along the whole bay, where at least three resorts operate. It turns out the sand had been literally vacuumed up and sold.
Apparently, excessive amounts of sand were getting into the guts of the electrical plant at Jiyyeh, which is cooled by sea water. A dredging company, allegedly owned by the son of a prominent politician, was brought in to remove the offending sand, but the government was unable to pay the $7 per m3 it costs to carry out such an operation.
No problem. A deal was struck whereby the dredging company was entitled to sell any sand it removed. But when the state discovered that sand can be sold for $21 per m3, a joint venture was formed. The dredging company took $14, while the state pocketed $7. The electricity plant was free of sand, and the government had made a tidy sum out of selling public property.
It was an act of naked theft.
Where the authority to do this came from, and where the money went (not to mention the sand), is anyone’s guess. We do know that the beach resorts of Jiyyeh – prime examples of Lebanese enterprise – have been robbed of a crowd-pulling asset.
If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny.
This is not the only example of state vandalism in Jiyyeh. Resort owners complain of the blanket of soot that settles on their property every time the plant’s turbine is cleaned by a giant vacuum pump, as well as the raw sewage pumped into the Mediterranean and the surrounding beaches (even though the EU has allegedly earmarked around $150,000 to keep Lebanon’s part of the sea clean). The sewage was such a serious threat to business that one developer spent $300,000 of his own money to do the government’s job and divert the waste.
One wonders who should really be running the country.