The municipality has introduced a number of horizontal roads to the city and we are currently in the first phase of building a ring road. Several drains and cesspits were connected to the public sewer network in the past three years and the process of forming a sanitary drainage team is now under way, in order to dispense with the need for outsourcing.
Our municipal vision pays heed to both strategic and operational plans. Our strategic plan includes the following projects:
- A waste sorting factory established and equipped thanks to support from the World Bank and the European Union. However, the agreement stipulated that the Baalbeck municipality fund the sanitary landfill and it turned out that the cost of digging up the landfill stands somewhere between USD 5 million and USD 6 million, that is three times the European grant provided for the establishment of the factory.
- Renovation of the city’s commercial center at around USD 5 million.
- Establishment of an industrial zone at around USD 10 million.
- Cultural heritage project.
- Linking the sewage pits to the public network at around USD 4 million to USD 5 million.
However, these expenses are beyond the financial capacity of the municipality, for the revenues generated from the Independent Municipal Fund and tax collection combined do not exceed LBP 5 billion. On the other hand, our ongoing projects tackle waste management, sewage problems and all day- to-day needs arising in the city.
Currently, the municipality is focused on developing the city’s human resources. The two most important projects we have introduced in order to provide employment opportunities to the locals are the following:
- A co-op for the city’s daily cleaning workers through which they can subscribe to the Lebanon’s National Social Security Fund.
- A Parking meter scheme capable of providing 30 to 40 jobs in a period of 2 to 3 months.
Carrying out the prospective strategic plans expands employment horizons for the people of Baalbeck, not to mention that the municipality is promoting and facilitating investment in the city through its assistance in expediting the related transactions.
Iaat is home to a sewage refinery linked to all the parts of the city except for the four new neighborhoods, and the municipality is working on connecting the latter to the station. Furthermore, we were awarded a grant by the Italian Development Cooperation Office to separate sewage from the water irrigating orchards and crops in Ras El-Nabee. It is my hope that we will be able to link all sewage pits in the city to the public sewage network in the coming three years. The Italian Cooperation Office and the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon are among our biggest donors. The latter’s activity was not limited to the massive efforts it exerted to reconstruct Lebanon after the July War, but has also permitted the building of the Baalbeck-Hermel highway, which is nearing completion.
What were the major problems you faced during your term?
Unfortunately, the state and the relevant authorities still fail to give Baalbeck its due care and attention. In terms of administrative decentralization for instance, the people of Baalbeck are obliged to endure a strenuous and costly trip to Zahle in order to obtain a copy of their criminal record. Furthermore, the city, which is widely recognized as being an unparalleled tourist attraction suffers from an abject absence of the public utility services necessary for the maintenance of its motels, restaurants and tourist facilities which lack access to power, water and telephone services.
Ministries responsible for infrastructure and public utilities should take serious action to fill this niche and the ministers of tourism, public works and transport, and energy and water are all invited to join efforts in order to come up with an immediate development plan that would save Baalbeck from further neglect. My urgent appeal goes to the Minister of Finance, for our share of the Independent Municipal Fund can hardly cover the salaries of staff. Last year, Baalbeck’s share stood at roughly LBP 3.5 billion, a number that dropped down to LBP 2.4 billion this year. The Minister of Finance should release the municipalities’ share of revenues generated from telecommunications in order to assign us a fair budget that would facilitate the execution of crucial development projects. As a matter of fact, we have warned mobile companies that the municipality might resort to demounting the transmission antennas they have in the regions falling under its authority in an attempt to press towards the timely delivery of our share.
Baalbeck will grow incapable of accommodating visitors as long as nothing is done to improve the deplorable conditions of its utility services. The city was teeming with momentum during the Holy month of Ramadan and the Eid Fitr this year and the current surrounding circumstances have prompted visitors from inside and outside the city to flock into its markets instead of visiting other destinations.
Was Baablbeck affected by the influx of Syrian refugees?
Baalbeck is home to over 125 000 people, not to mention that around 30 000 to 40 000 Syrians have sought shelter in the city, thus amounting to approximately one third of the city’s population. Adding to an already populated area, the new arrivals have drained the human and physical resources of the municipality, straining water and power networks and imposing waste management burdens. Unfortunately, no serious assistance was offered to Baalbeck to address the refugee crisis and tackle its repercussions on the local community.
Many international organizations have come to Baalbeck to assist in appeasing the crisis of Syrian refugees, but their in-kind assistance was often mismanaged and resulted in inequitable distribution of aid. In response, meetings were held with the entities and NGOs in question in order to coordinate aid provision through the local authority.
How large is your staff at the municipality?
The municipality has 186 employees of whom 80 are full-timers and the rest are daily workers helping mostly in waste management and sewage treatment. We are currently in the process of updating our by-laws and we are planning to perform a civil service examination after an objective study of the needs and wants of the city.
Any last words?
The city is abuzz with restaurants, coffee shops, artisan shops and tourist and religious landmarks. However, despite its capacities and facilities which fall in line with the requirements set by the ministries of tourism, environment and culture, we urge greater support from the state and the pertinent ministries to help Baalbeck live up to its full potential. Security is another pressing demand in Baalbeck, and I, hereby, call for assistance in securing a safe and tranquil climate that would attract investment and foster tourism.