Caretaker Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, on Wednesday said in a press briefing, that travelers arriving in Lebanon are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but the main problem is internal due to the lack of citizens’ commitment to the required preventive measures such as wearing a mask and observing social distancing.
Premier Diab pointed out that key risk indicators are the death rate among infected people; the death rate is still low compared to other countries, as well as the number of intensive care beds available for corona patients. Diab said that we were in a race against time; that is why we recently imposed a two-week nationwide lockdown, during which we were able to increase the number of beds in public and private hospitals. We are fearful of reaching the Italian model, where corona patients won’t find a hospital bed; therefore we are working to avert this risk.
In response to a question about the possibility of returning to the lockdown after the holidays, PM Diab said: “I said and repeat, if we see non-compliance and a surge in infections, we will definitely go into full closure; but the number of infected persons is acceptable to date. The most important thing is the number of deaths and emergency cases that require intensive care. Lebanese are fortunate that the youth account for the largest percentage of critical cases, contrarily to Europe where the largest percentage is seen in elderly, and this helps us. As for the risk of infection in schools, it does not pose a risk and the infection rate is very low so far; the problem is that schools are not equipped with a convenient infrastructure and lack teacher training to cope with the corona crisis. We are waiting for the Ministry of Health’s technical committee and committee of specialists’ meetings to provide us with the required statistics. Next Monday, the inter-ministerial committee will convene to decide on the lockdown-related issue”.
Regarding airport closure, Prime Minister Diab said: “We were among the first countries to have closed the airport; expats infection rate is very low, and Lebanon cannot be closed and isolated from abroad; there is also the economic benefit to the country. However, in the event of a surge in infections arriving from abroad, we may close the airport; we will act based on the statistics and information generated by the specialized committees. We will take any decision that serves the interest of the Lebanese, based on scientific and not political grounds”.
Diab added: “I asked the Minister of the Interior to follow up on the incoming infections, and so far we have only one case from the UK with the new strain. The new Covid-19 strain is present in Europe since last September, and we cannot close the country to European capitals, especially that there are students who are visiting their families in Lebanon during the holidays. Thus, we developed a plan for the safe return from abroad. The plan features strict procedures; arriving passengers will have to undergo 3 PCR tests, one before boarding the plane, a second one upon arrival at Beirut airport, with a three-day home quarantine, then a third one to make sure that the traveler was not infected. The surge in infections is mainly due community transmission as a result of non-compliance; thus, I call on all Lebanese to abide by the necessary measures for the sake of their family members’ safety, especially the elderly, and if we commit now, as we did in February, March and April, we will definitely overcome the second wave. ”
Regarding the lack of adequate laboratories that conduct tests to detect those infected with the new strain, he replied: “There are laboratories, but commitment is absolutely necessary; we cannot dispatch a policeman at the door of every citizen; we have adopted strict procedures as the first line of defense, followed by a home quarantine and then a third test to ensure that the person was not infected”.
In response to a question about the decision of the judicial investigating judge in the port case, Fadi Sawan, and the position he will take in the event that Sawan requests to question him further as defendant, Diab replied: “I refer to the Constitution, which is above all and, and to Article 70, and if he wants to charge me, he should send the file to the Parliament. I have full respect to the judiciary and I was the first to have signed the judicial formations out of respect for the judiciary and its independence”.
In response to a question about the request of Judge Sawan’s dismissal and the appointment of another judge, he said: “I have not made such a request and I will not interfere in the work of the judiciary; I did not inquire about this issue, nor did I make any suggestion in this regard.”
PM Diab asked, “Did any Lebanese know what” ammonium nitrate “means before August 4?” “The first official report I received was on July 22. The reason for not visiting the port was that I received three different pieces of information within two hours on June 3. I was first informed by the security services, by chance, that there was 2000 kilograms of TNT at the port. I immediately requested to arrange a visit to the port; during the security preparations for my visit, it became clear that there was different information from what I first received. I was informed that it weighed 2,500 tons and not 2,000 kilos, and that it was not “TNT” but “nitrate”, which we did not know anything about. An internet search revealed that the nitrate was a chemical fertilizer. The third piece of information I received was that this substance has been in the port for seven years and is not new. As long as the file is still under investigation and that there are three different information, let the investigation be completed and the file be send to me, and then I will visit the port with evidence in hand. I received the report on July 22.
Suppose I visited the port on June 4 and inspected Hangar 12. I would have sent a letter to the security officials who were already aware of the matter for seven years. Does anyone know when and who made an opening in Hangar 12? The FBI report revealed that the quantity that exploded was only 500 tons, so where did the 2200 tons go? Who is the owner of the ship? How did it enter the port? Who allowed it in? Who has been silent about that for so long? Are the security services aware of that? We have convened 20 sessions of the Supreme Defense Council this year, and none of the security officials raised the issue. I asked the Secretary-General of the Supreme Defense Council, Major General Mahmoud Al-Asmar, to look into the Council’s meeting minutes for the word “nitrate”; since 2014 until now, no one from the Supreme Defense Council has informed the President of the Republic, in his capacity as head of the Council, about the existence of these materials”.
Premier Diab added, “If I had a feeling that there was a danger in the port, I would have spoken immediately with the President of the Republic, and I was not to cover this crime that occurred in 2013. I usually receive dozens of official security reports and 90 percent turn out to be incorrect.”
PM Diab said: “I am deeply hurt. I came to fight corruption from Day 1 but was deemed corrupt in the end because I did not visit the port.” I received the report on July 22 and I immediately transferred it to relevant ministers. The country was under a lockdown by virtue of the general mobilization decision due to the coronavirus pandemic, and we had Eid al-Adha and Army Day. Is this a deliberate act? There is something abnormal. I do not believe in coincidence. I was the first one to have opened the door to Judge Sawan, and when Judge Ghassan Oweidat called me and asked me, “Do you have an objection to meeting Judge Sawan on Tuesday, i.e. in 5 days? I told him, let him come now; he came, and I told him everything.”
In response to a question about determining responsibilities after the blast, he said: “I am not the Judiciary to determine the responsibilities. I fought to transfer the case to the Judicial Council. I want to make it clear that the investigation committee that I formed was an administrative investigation committee and not a judicial committee, and it submitted recommendations to the Council of Ministers; for this reason, I delayed the Cabinet resignation in order to pass the following decisions: Firstly, we transferred the case from the Military Court to the Justice Council, for this allows the affected people to file lawsuits, and this is what happened. Secondly, we regarded the victims of the port blast as Army martyrs in terms of compensation and benefits. Thirdly, the LAF has distributed 100 billion LBP to the port blast’s victims (11300 households), in addition to 22,000 households through civil society organizations. We have also made a decision that any first-class official who would be arrested will be put at the disposal of the prime minister”.
As for activating the caretaker government, Premier Diab said: “On July 18, I declared from the Patriarchal See that I will not resign because the political divisions in Lebanon do not allow for the formation of another government, that we may act in a caretaker capacity for a long time, and that this was a crime against Lebanon, for the caretaker government cannot convene Cabinet sessions and make decisions; nevertheless, when the port explosion took place, any government in the world must resign out of a moral duty ”
Regarding PM Diab’s reception of Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail, and the solidarity of former prime ministers and the Sunni community with him, he declared, “I acted based on the Constitution and Article 70. I consider myself as the prime minister of all Lebanese and I refer to the Constitution.”
And whether PM Diab was fearful and anxious about what is being prepared for him behind Judge Sawan’s decision, he said: “I am a believer and I am not weak but strong because I am telling the truth. I am not coming from a political family, and I do not want to be like this. I will not run for parliamentary elections; if I am asked to head a parliamentary list, I will refuse to do so. I said in my assignment speech that I consider myself strong because I don’t want anything for myself. ”
On lifting subsidies, Premier Diab said: “I have taken a decisive position since last July against lifting subsidies. As for the issue of rationing, it is correct because the rich should not benefit from the subsidies that should only target the needy. I asked the Central Bank’s governor to provide the amount remaining at the bank for subsidies. According to media reports, we have two billion dollars, which must suffice for at least six months pending other solutions. The needy and poor citizen should be given priority, so the financing card is essential. A decision must be shared by the caretaker government, Parliament and the Central Bank of Lebanon. I sent a suggestion to the parliament and I spoke with Speaker Nabih Berri. The suggestion will be discussed in the joint committees, and I asked the ministers to fully cooperate with the parliamentary committees to find the appropriate solution”.
Regarding the reasons that prevented Premier Diab from making popular decisions against corruption and naming things by their names, “There is an interconnected system of corruption; I do not have full files and therefore I cannot give names in order not to do anyone wrong. We are not a revolutionary government; we work pursuant to the Constitution and within the limits of the system. But if the forensic audit uncovers the sources of corruption, as will happen in auditing the accounts of the Banque du Liban, then we can say that we are on the right judicial path. I will not give names without evidence. There is an interrelated political, financial and economic system, but I fight corruption within the system and not by breaking public property as happened during the events in the street, for this does not serve the revolution and the demands of the Lebanese. ”
Regarding the way forward after the lifting of banking secrecy, Diab said: “We were very late in acting as a result of political bickering and point scoring. I called on everyone from the beginning to meet and cooperate to solve the social, financial and banking crises accumulated over decades. On February 11, when we still had 75 percent of the Eurobonds, which grants us the right to decide whether to reschedule the debts, and we would have avoided defaulting, I asked the banks not to sell the bonds; however, the banks sold a large share of the bonds; the percentage decreased to 58%, and the liquidity remained abroad. If we had rescheduled the debt, that is, I we had postponed payment for 20 years, which amounts to 4.6 billion dollars due for 2020, 5 billion for 2021, and 5 billion for 2022, we would have taken a breath for three years on the financial and economic levels”.
Regarding what Prime Minister Saad Hariri could offer, which Prime Minister Diab did not manage to offer, he replied: “Approval of the political community. Efficiency, cleanliness and patriotism are not sufficient for success. Rather, there must be political consensus. I was the first prime minister to be notified of his assignment to form a government three days before the nomination.”—PM Press Office
Source: National News Agency