An interview with Parliamentary Candidate: Laury Haytayan

Beirut Today interviews Kollouna Watani’s parliamentary candidate Laury Haytayan from the Beirut I district

Bio: Laury Haytayan graduated from the University of Exeter with an MA in Middle East Politics. She is the current MENA Senior Officer at the Natural Resource Government Institute. She is also the cofounder of the Lebanese Coalition for Good Governance on Extractive Industries, a peace-building and anti-corruption NGO. In an attempt to put her extensive expertise in the oil and gas sector into practice, Laury is running for Armenian Orthodox seat in Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections in Beirut I district with Kollouna Watani coalition.

In 2004, I started working with NGOs on peacebuilding, anti-corruption. Since that time, I was involved in public affairs and policy-making. I have been pushing from outside the system to drive change, and it didn’t work, so I knew I needed to go inside. We need to take control of the parliament. Most candidates of our coalition share the same experience and have been pushing for reform and laws from the outside. It became the time to move all this expertise into parliament.

What are the primary reasons that made you want to run for parliament? What are the main pillars of your platform?

 My priority is the oil and gas sector. This is my field and now it is really crucial for Lebanon. We signed 2 contracts for drilling in 2019. The new parliament has  a big role to play in legislations—the legislations that are already put will be taken again and start working on them all over again with civil society. We have already started a coalition of civil society groups working on this issue. This coalition is like my baby since 2013, and it will be part of the process of legislation. Public consultation will be on the table to discuss policies for oil and gas. This includes the sovereign wealth fund, onshore law, national oil company. Those will be my priorities if I get into parliament. If all these laws are not well put, all our efforts will be null and all revenues would go to waste. We will ask the government to give us reports on the work being achieved, and we will hold them accountable and this also applies to companies. If there is no strategy for the energy sector, we will push the government to write one. These are my main concerns.

Oil and gas sector, if not managed, it will be a disaster for Lebanon. For an expert on it to join the parliament, it will make a huge difference.

Is the representation of the people’s interest something that you consider to be essential?

The role of the parliamentarian includes representation, oversight, and legislation. The current MPs do not do oversight as the same people are in both the government and the parliament- so we do not know who is holding who accountable. There should be a division of roles. At the same time, we need a change in the system as the current one doesn’t work due to conflict of interest. There is no separation of power.

Also, legislation is poor in Lebanon. For representation, to current MPs, its about attending lunches, conferences, and providing services to certain groups. In fact, its about doing what is in favor of all citizens. Representation is not about an MP offering a job. The biggest challenge today is when someone tells you “ Yes, yes! I believe you, but will you offer me a job opportunity?” As an MP, it is not my role to directly provide job opportunities. I am responsible to create an enabling environment for jobs through legislation.

What I will be doing, I am accountable for the people. I am not accountable for a leader. I am accountable to those who vote for me. Every 6 months, I will do a conference in the parliament. We need to revive the parliament. I want to tell the people what I planned to do and provide an update on what I did and did not do with justification. Every six months, people will have a report online and offline and they can track my progress. After four years, if I don’t do my job well, people shouldn’t vote for me. In fact, I should not run for elections. People can talk directly to me and the working group in the parliament. It is not an individual problem I’ll be solving, but rather collective problems that I aim to solve through legislation.

According to a report by the International Labor Organization in 2014, unemployment rate in Lebanon is 24%, while youth unemployment has been reported to be 35%, how will you work to address this and what steps should the government take to increase and to generate sustainable job creation?

Most importantly, the government needs to create stability. We need to encourage small businesses through laws by reducing taxations to speed up registrations to evolve their work which is also part of Li Baladi’s program to encourage employment.

By encouraging small to medium enterprises, we are driving more employment opportunities. Also, we aim to revive the industry sector which fragile now due to the fierce competition with foreign companies. It is high time for our own industry to blossom. Once it does, this is a huge sector for employment opportunities.

Even in agriculture, job opportunities can be driven. If marijuana is legalized for medical purposes, people will be attracted to work in agriculture which will also increase employment.

With another waste crisis looming, what steps do you think parliament should take to tackle this issue?

  1. Is incineration a viable option?
  2. Is recycling a viable and practical option? Should recycling be made mandatory for  every household in Lebanon?

For waste, we need to recycle from source. We also need to reduce waste production. So, we need to be strict with recycling. A new law, I recently read about, provides insight on saving food waste—it reduces waste production and provides families with new source for food. We are against incinerators whatsoever.

Based on studies, incinerators can be dangerous is not monitored and thought of well. Many people are dying of cancer and there is no one monitoring this now, which is exactly why incinerators do not sound like a good idea at the meantime.

There is lack of trust between government and citizens. When talks about incinerators saw light, citizens accused the political groups in the parliament of passing certain deals that could be of harm to the people. Citizens no longer trust the political factions even though current members of the parliament could be right about certain policies or in certain views, but the trust is lost. To build trust, you need to engage with people and prove them wrong when it comes to validating your argument. The central government is being accused and they don’t need to argue with or invalidate expert opinion, but should rather seek ways to build trust and back arguments well.

Work should be done with citizens. Today, many people have lost interest in improving the environment or conserving resources. There is a misunderstanding of the role of citizens when it comes to protecting the environment. It is our role to explain to the citizens, their role in terms of preserving the environment in your country and planet. There should be a lot of work done in terms of awareness. Recycling is practical in every household. The problem, however, is the destination of waste which is not made clear for citizens. So, this is where the role of the government lies. We need to work on this now urgently. But, awareness is the number one priority.

In terms of strictly applying recycling, what creates a challenge is the issue of “knowing a friend or a connection” that protects them from the law. Law enforcement is weak in Lebanon.  

In terms of real estate and real estate malpractices at the expense of the greenery in Lebanon, do you think economic development should trump the environmental conservation in Lebanon and what policies do you think parliament can develop to reduce these malpractices?

No. The main reason why we have such malpractices is the issue of prioritizing financial gains. The capital Beirut needs to have the minimum space for people to enjoy green spaces, and not simply building anywhere with no regulations. It is not acceptable. The state is not monitoring this and is receiving commissions and taxes from building just anywhere. There is no social vision of the city.

We need to look into how to preserve the current green area. This should be in partnership with NGOs like NAHNOO and other civil society groups. We need to try to assess what spaces are available. We need to ground a new law to govern this better in terms of residence and green spaces. Also, the municipality should grow a vision in urban planning.

How will you work to promote environmental conservation and undertaking environmental impact reporting in the new oil-drilling sector in Lebanon?

Gas is the transitional energy to reach for renewables. The government is currently working on renewables. We need to see if we want to develop a bill to promote renewables with regulations like “committing to renewables amounting to 12% of energy by 2020.” For onshore work, we will be looking for oil. I will be making a point to make sure if it is necessary to do so. Why should we use oil and follow an outdated trend that is hazardous and polluting when there is no need? We need to use our available resources like solar and wind sources and the system is really cheap in terms of technology. It is unfortunate that we harm our already vulnerable environment because we want to start drilling for oil just now.

What role do you think public spaces play in society? Do you think that the increase in public spaces would serve to promote unity in Lebanon? How will you work to conserve and create public spaces in Lebanon?

We need to have common public spaces in Lebanon. When the downtown was opened again, people from all backgrounds and all regions joined and meet. It doesn’t make sense to preserve a culture where some people never live or communicate with Hijabis and vice versa. Public spaces promote unity and diversity in thinking. If you have a different view, it doesn’t mean we should fight. We can have different views and continue discussions.

We support public spaces. We will stop anything that goes against the protection of those public spaces. It is not a rough part of our platform but it is one of our principles.

Human Rights Watch released a report in January of 2018 on the alarming air pollution rates in Lebanon due to the burning of waste, what policies do you think the parliament should develop and to prohibit these environmental malpractices and to reduces air pollution?

There should be better coordination between the government and the parliament. If a study is released, the concerned parties should meet and discuss. It could be the Ministry of Environment or Ministry of Health. The government need to be held accountable: Does it have a plan? If not, a plan or strategy needs to be drafted. Afterwards, action can be taken in the parliament through legislations. The vision and implementation is a responsibility of the government. The parliament is for oversight.

We need to factor in citizen health and benefit in announcements and discussions, as this is not purely political and human lives are at stake. This is something not done so far. There should be a work-plan to evaluate performance and to be held accountable. It is a dysfunctional system.

People should know what’s being discussed in parliament transparently. The Access to Information Law was published and it needs implementation. Each Ministry needs to publish its announcements and ensure public consultations regularly.

How would you describe the Lebanese government’s performance and actions in dealing with the Syrian refugee issue?  Do you think that the parliament can promote policies that better their conditions?

The Lebanese government has not been effective with crises. At the beginning of the refugee crisis, the government declared that there is nothing going on in Syria and there is nothing to worry about. Afterwards, when the influx increased, statements changed. Even Minister Gibran Bassil, at first stated that there is nothing serious going on in Syria. There was no monitoring of influx and no policies were put in place.

Everything was politicized and by the time they realized the seriousness of the problem, the refugee count reached 1.5 million. The concept of a refugee became used in the speeches of politicians and utilized as part of a political agenda (with or against return of refugees). There is no vision. We also have an issue of human rights. Some municipalities reached to a point where they announced “Mamnou3 El Tajawol” for refugees.

The government is responsible to protect refugees not parliament, based on human rights conventions. The government should protect the vulnerable without exceptions. You can’t just return refugees especially if there are no safe zones. If you put a refugee in a camp with less than the bare minimum of services provided, it is no surprise that aggressive behaviors arise.

In terms of a woman’s right to be able to naturalize and pass on the Lebanese nationality to her children, do you think the parliament should work to create a policy that naturalize every Lebanese woman’s children, or only allow women to pass on their nationality based on certain exceptions?

Isn’t she a Lebanese citizen? We are against discrimination in Lebanon, and this defies the concept. The mentality is not in line with human rights. A woman is free to pass on citizenship to her children and husband. Politicians think little of women and try to find loopholes in the law to minimize their role in society.