Beirut Today interviews Kollouna Watani’s parliamentary candidate Ghada Eid from the district of Chouf
Ghada Eid is a Lebanese TV presenter famous for tackling governmental corruption in her TV show, “Al Fassad” (Corruption). Eid holds a master’s in media and communications from the Lebanese University, as well as a license to practice law, and began her journalistic career as a press editor in Nidaa Al Watan Newspaper and ICN Television, before their closing. She worked as an editor at Al-Massira Magazine, before moving to New Television to become a reporter in 2001. Today, she continues to be a talk-show host on Murr Television (MTV).
Ghada is running with for the Maronite in the district of Chouf under Sabaa’s electoral campaign and the “Kollouna Watani” coalition.
What are the primary reasons that made you want to run for parliament? What are the main pillars of your platform?
The main reasons [for my nomination for parliamentary elections] is the request of the civil society, which is represented by the national union and specifically the Sabaa party and considered that I have the capability to promote change through combating corruption at this level. They decided to make use of my expertise, and after I studied the electoral law, the capability of winning, the alliances in Lebanon, and the civil society, I decided to run [for parliament]. I also considered that I can help in succeeding because I am well known, and if I were to become a member of parliament I am capable of taking my expertise and files with me, and I will be able to induce change.
Our goal is, of course, not to elect one person merely, my goal is rather to, on behalf of all the members in the “Kollouna Watani” alliance, to elect a group even if we were few [members] only. Our goal is to induce change, to present a new model for the political landscape, to show how a member of parliament has a legislative role, in addition to their capability to question [decisions] and hold people accountable, and to present questions to the government that will penalize us for any mistake we may make. Our goal is to be watchdogs. These are our main goals, and hopefully we will be successful in electing members of parliament.
Is the representation of the people’s interest something that you consider to be essential?
Yes, of course. I have, over the past twenty years, advocated for the rights of Lebanese citizens in several domains and have dealt with several issues on the micro and macro level. Such issues are like the issue of rates and salaries, the rights of contractors, the rights of the day laborers, and the rights of social segments. On the micro level, I have adopted cases where citizens were rightfully wronged, in addition to the relationship between citizens and the government and law. From this domain that I come from, which deals with humanitarian issues, human rights advocacy, and corruption, all of which I have discussed in my show, I am capable of saying that my election will be to the benefit of the people. This is because I will be independent, with no inclination to any political party or leader, and therefore I am free [in my actions]. It is also because I will be able to have immunity, which allows me to face problems more strongly, and my knowledge will allow me to pose issues in a stronger manner. No one can tell me that I cannot pose one of the projects that I intend on doing, such as a health card or insurance for the elderly, then I will say yes [for all projects], we can [work on these projects]. This is because some money is being stolen in some sector or in some administration, so we will gather the money to work on a project.
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?
If we’re talking from 2014 till now, then definitely the percentage that we’re talking about has increased by 10 or 20 percent. Just yesterday, it was being discussed that the percentage has reached 46 percent. At the primary level, the production sectors in Lebanon are neglected on all levels. We don’t have an industrial sector, an agricultural one, nor do we have support for big projects that the youth could work in. This is something that should be prioritized, because we cannot generate employment opportunities except through stimulating them and in the production sectors.
In order to preserve these production sectors, there should be both moral and financial support, through which the youth can take interest-free loans that are strongly supported. These loans will cause an important economic movement in the country, and from here the economy will transform from recessive to productive. This step is one among many that can work on preserving employment opportunities in Lebanon.
We also seek to provide protection for the workforce in Lebanon. In the jobs that the Lebanese have shied away from, the government usually relies on foreign workers. There are also a lot of job opportunities that the Lebanese citizens occupy where the government continues to rely on foreign workers, whether they be Syrians or others. Here there should be, like in all other countries, respect towards the Lebanese citizen and protection for the Lebanese workforce, as we need a series of steps in order to lower the unemployment amongst the youth.
What’s more important is to have a nationalist environment so citizens can feel a sense of belonging to their country. This environment is unavailable because it is polluted by corruption, and it is indicative of the lack of power the law has in the country, which can ultimately protect the youth. Instead, we have a law that allows anyone with a “wasta” to succeed, and anyone without it is forced to sit at home. We should create a positive environment so we can invest support in the right way.
With another waste crisis looming, what steps do you think parliament should take to tackle this issue?
In 2008, I wrote a book from my series on corruption […where I discussed] the crisis that was looping before us as a result of the random contracts signed with Sukleen, and the lack of proper organization in the sector […]. This book provides a series of solutions, which are now more available and doable than they were 10 years ago, seeing as several activists have been talking about the solutions. The solutions are, in short, building waste treatment factories, creating a non-centralized administrative system in villages and towns, and spreading awareness in this sector for the people, the activists who work on spreading awareness, and for the government who should leave the issue to the municipalities.
Till now, they [the government] continue to hold ministerial meetings to deal with the issue, and to transfer the crisis from one place to another, and this is what happened when they moved from the Nehme landfill to the Costa Brava landfill. At the time, I was an activist against this plan in the Chouf district, and this is one of the reasons the Chouf political movement chose me to stand with them on the ground. This solution is the result of the lack of proper political decision that leaves the garbage instead of using it as a product to be traded. They want to leave the garbage so their employers can work on it, and by this I mean the environmental activists that are self-serving their own interests. If we do decide on sorting the garbage in the districts, then we will be removing a large amount of garbage, and what remains will be easier to remove. The Costa Brava landfill that cannot last us a year, will then last us for 10 years instead.
Is incineration a viable option?
Today, garbage is being burnt, especially in the Chouf district, because it is excluded from the Costa Brava landfill, and unfortunately, the garbage is being burnt the traditional way, meaning the primitive way. It is being burnt between houses, and this could potentially cause health issues in the future. There are factories delegated to burning garbage that environmentalists warn against, of course after having studied how to solve the problem without falling into another issue. As long as the environmentalists encourage us to sort our garbage, with time. sorting will replace landfilling, meaning we will be able to invest our garbage, benefit from it, produce fertilizers, and even use it to produce energy. As long as we are capable of benefiting, why should we create new factories to burn the garbage and create new opportunities to trade it? I am with environmentally friendly solutions, which several experts agree can be done through proper sorting of garbage.
Is recycling a viable and practical option? Should recycling be made mandatory for every household in Lebanon?
[I am with recycling]. Sorting [garbage] is related to recycling and benefitting from it whereby we can produce, using this garbage, plastic, paper, and we can also engage in producing fertilizers using garbage, in addition to generating energy. We can look to countries that have tested these methods and succeeded for influence, and we can simply apply it Lebanon. The only issue is the politicians who use the garbage as an opportunity to engage in business deals. This is a problem.
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 of course, we cannot only be concerned with caring for the environment, it should be one of our priorities because it is related to our health. The environment is [directly related to] our health, and a healthy environment is something we should live in, because any form of pollution leads to deadly dangerous and chronic diseases, in addition to cancer. Not caring for the environment is what leads us to these diseases, and there is evidence concerning this at the ministry of health. The minister has warned us, more than once, of the expensive hospital charges for cancerous diseases, which means we live in a polluted environment…Preserving the environment should not only be for aesthetic reasons, but for environmental concerns as well […].
If we have been capable of establishing a ministry of environment, then this ministry will remain only ink on paper if we are not capable of giving it authority. We should establish new legislations that gives this ministry enough authority, a decision-making role, and the ability to implement environmental policies. This allows it to perform actions and not have to constantly refer to the minister’s decision, so we do not have to go back and forth between legislative bodies and eventually not implement it. The decisions that come from the ministry should be given the space to be implemented so it can be of benefit. We should give it a stronger authority, instead of waiting for a decision to emerge and travel between different legislative bodies and ministries. A ministry of environment means a ministry of environment, or else we can forgo this ministry that does not benefit us.
The policies that we should also do is to specify what we want [from the ministry]: To create underground wells or not to, to allow crushers or not…Instead, administrative limits have become preserves from one minister to the next. We need to specify a legal framework to protect the environment. In my opinion, this framework is capable of altering the authority of the concerned ministries concerning this issue, and limiting all legal actions being done [to damage the environment]. Sometimes, we are surprised at how the internal security forces, and specifically the manager, grants the permission to build. In the villages for instance, a policy was passed that gives municipalities the authority to urbanize. All of these exceptions should be looked over, so the role of the parliamentary member is to hold the government accountable. The problem is that we have lots of policies and laws, but implementing them is impractical.
How will you work to promote environmental conservation and undertaking environmental impact reporting in the new oil-drilling sector in Lebanon?
In order to discuss this topic in particular, we should be aware of it because we are on the verge of a new sector, meaning a new opportunity, despite all of the business deals that have been discussed. Despite this, experiments have proven that in spite of all the responses of the legislative bodies and what resembles the relevant regulation by the competent ministries, we still lack a lot in this sector. We, of course, need environmental supervision done by a group of experts, which will supervise the drilling process to prevent this operation from being a treasure to a curse. If we need to generate profit from petroleum and natural gas, then we should have environmental conditions of operation, so that we do not pollute our sea, areas, climate and environment. There should be complete and total awareness for this stage that we are entering.
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?
I am quite surprised. When we travel to somewhere else, especially to Europe, and we go to the beach and you see how it is there, you think about our lack of public spaces. We do not have a right to public spaces, and this is a scene that pains me terribly. We go to European countries, and we’re happy to live our freedom in nature, in the simplicity of nature, but in Lebanon if we do not have the money to go to fancy restaurants, then we do not see the sea. Even if we do decide to go and live in nature, then you cannot find a space to sit in that is clean and tidy.
Public spaces indicate the degree of concern the government holds towards its people, and public spaces are the responsibilities of municipalities and the concerned ministries. If we’re talking about public beaches and gardens, then there are is a lot of responsibility on the ministries of public works. I reiterate, the problem in our current MPs is the lack of care towards such issues. Is there one MP that proposed questions and concerns to the ministry concerning the lack of care for public spaces? Public spaces join individuals, and they build a heritage. They lead to, as I said, a collective space, and a collective social life, which leads to heritage, and tourism as well. It helps the tourism and economic sectors of the country prosper. The sad thing is that this issue is not even a priority, nor part of anyone’s agenda.
First, anyone who attempts to privatize spaces in front of their personal property, and this applies to parking spaces as well, should be subjected to deterrence. The government is generating profit off of these parking spaces. Everyone considers that the street facing their building is their opportunity, and every political leader closes the street every time they stop in an area, and there is no one who cares about beaches enough to clean it and tidy it or even place chairs to people can sit. All of these should be taken care of, and more importantly, we should prevent people from trespassing in public spaces because this occurs everywhere. All public spaces are indebted to municipalities and MPs, and they’re all subjected to closings and some even open with licenses. All of this should be banned.
The degree of trespassing in public spaces is scary. We have discussed this issue constantly on my show, in several episodes, and we showed the names of the trespassers, many of which are politicians. When they decided to use the general governmental returns to finance the series of ranks and salaries, they concluded that in the entirety of Lebanon, from the far North to the far East, there is about 50 or 60 million dollars. In negotiations, this number went up to a 100 million dollars, and experts estimate that it will increase by 10 times in percentages, but these politicians still seek to save up so they aren’t required to pay too much.
We’re going to parliament with all of this anger on behalf of the people, whom are all bitter [about the quality of work that has been presented]. They’re expecting a lot of work if we are to be elected, and even if we are not elected, then we will keep discussing [these issues]. What’s upsetting is how the Lebanese voter delivers these MPs to parliament, because they do not know how to choose or who to elect, but now there is a chance and there are people from the civil society running. I don’t want to say they’re outstanding, but they should at least be given an opportunity.
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?
I have been following up with this issue in the Chouf district for the past two months, this issue is of urgency in this district because they do not throw their garbage in the Costa Brava landfill, and specifically in the minister of environment’s village, Tarek Al-Khatib. Burning garbage, and this is undeniable, is conducted quite a lot, and it’s unreal how common it has become in the district. This report is definitely not free of flaws, on the contrary, it shows us the bigger picture. The reality is catastrophic, and as we said, in order to prevent the burning of garbage, we should provide spaces so that we can create a culture of sorting garbage. This way, we can create a plot in every district, where municipalities can form a union and start a factory to deal with the garbage. This factory will be professional, and environmentally friendly according to the given standards, in addition to not being a disturbance to anyone. This factory is capable of recycling and sorting according to international standards, and it is capable of transforming this garbage from a burden to a treasure to benefit from it. It could fund the work that is being done in it, so that we don’t have to engage in landfilling. We can create a treasure so that the government does not have to pay [for dealing with this garbage crisis] using the money of the municipalities, which amounts to 150 million dollars only in Mount Lebanon. We’re sticking landfilling, and this is an absolute crisis, but it’s solution is simple. We should spread awareness to create a culture of recycling, reusing, and sorting in Lebanon.
How would you describe the Lebanese government’s performance and actions in dealing with the Syrian refugee issue? (if the person answers that the government has not done well, follow it with this question) Do you think that the parliament can promote policies that better their conditions?
The government dealt with the issue of refugees like it deals with any other issue. It dealt with it from a business standpoint, where the influx of refugees can be of benefit to it. Today, I want to ask the refugee council if they’ve interfered in the funds allocated to refugees since the start, so we can see how much it’s spent on them, and if these refugee organizations exist and help refugees, then what role has the government played in acting as their watchdog? We have information that says that the funds of refugees in Lebanon were toyed with, and several refugees have complained that they do not receive aid. The story started by giving them coupons to trade in for money or aid, and today, it has become chaotic, where some politicians have become involved to politically benefit from these refugees and their money. If these are the conditions [under which we live in], then how does the situation look like? The situation is catastrophic, because the lack of organization and the widespread of robbery is going to cause an even greater influx of refugees. This influx reflects badly on the Lebanese people, and its effects show in all areas, as well as in the economy.
The conditions refugees live in will only get better if we have proper management for the issues which I have previously mentioned. As we know, there are countries that have given monetary aid to refugees, and this is because of proper management that allows the distribution of this aid equally without benefitting from it or robbing those in need. This is how we start working on the solution. The refugees are divided into categories, and Syrians are now being labeled as displaced people since some have started to return to their country, while Palestinian refugees remain in their camps, whose conditions can be compared to a ticking bomb from all aspects. Palestinian refugees have their own organization [caring for them], which is the UNRWA, and they also have other organizations supporting them. We want to monitor this support […and how the aid is being delivered] because they are living on our land, and we cannot leave these organizations to do as they please. If we want to improve the situation we are living in, with regards to the environment, health, and the space we occupy, then this cannot be done outside the government. The government should supervise and monitor it, and it should also be part of the municipalities of the countries because if you go to the camps, you will feel as if you are stepping into another world. This even promotes security chaos within the camps. Therefore, I cannot say the government will fix these spaces if it cannot fix spaces for the Lebanese people even. Everything depends on one another…Like positive aspects depend on each other in all the districts and sectors, negative consequences exist in every place because of the lack of governmental supervision.
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?
I am with a woman’s right to give her citizenship to her children. The government fears that those holding the citizenship will increase drastically because of the presence of refugees in Lebanon, who might marry to receive the citizenship, and these are the fears that some also hold. Yet, in exchange children are born without citizenships and chances in life, education, employment…This poses a danger far greater than if they were to receive the citizenship. I am with the Lebanese woman’s right to pass down her citizenship to her children, regardless of what sect or area they come from. No one should hide behind the changing demographic argument, where passing on the citizenship leads one sect, or area, to greatly grow in size. This should all not be taken into account, but we should instead work on strengthening the country, and giving people their rights. Just yesterday I was speaking with a woman, who told me that her children received an education, but are not capable of securing a job, so they instead do nothing as if they do not even exist. This is unacceptable.