Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Haddad fiddles while Lebanon burns

From today's al Safir, a small piece of news while everybody is busy with the burning forests. (my translation, comments in italics and bold typeface mine).

Sami Haddad, Lebanon's minister of neoliberal economy and free trade, signed yesterday 3 contracts with NGOs (Lebanese? US?) to implement agricultural (???) projects financed by the US government. The ceremony took place in the presence of US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman.

These contracts are usually awarded to corporate US NGOs. This neatly recycles a big chunk of the money back to the US. Moreover, all equipment purchased by the projects usually have to be US-made. But lets wait till we learn more about these projects.

Also as I write, I have learned that ACDI-VOCA, a US development NGO (in the business of development) has been awarded one of the grants. Incidentally, there has been a controversy among NGOs around wheat monetization in the US. Read this IHT article.

These contracts aim at using the wheat donations offered by the US to Lebanon in the wake of the July 2006 war, of a total value of 25,000 tons of bread wheat.

What was the tonnage of the ammunitions offered to Israel in order to implement the July 2006 war (without talking of the political coverage, or as the Israelis put it, the political bullying to engage into the war)? Will these projects be implemented in the areas that were most affected by the war?

After the signature, ambassador Feltman talked about the US wheat, a gift to the Lebanese people from the US people. He expressed his happiness at the US support to agriculture in Lebanon and indicated that the agriculture sector in Lebanon is an important sector in terms of job opportunities and rural income.

I agree with the last statement.

Minister Haddad added: The US wheat donation was sold by bidding at a price of $5 million. A joint US-Lebanese committee was then formed to study the project proposals. 15 proposals were submitted by NGOs. Following a thorough and transparent evaluation, 3 projects were selected. They include loans, donations, and technical assistance in various areas.

Now that's interesting: first, Haddad pays $1.5 million a month from public money to subsidize wheat, so that the poor from all confessions do not reject him and his government and his "majority". Then, he gets offered wheat, but he sells it and then gives the money to corporate NGOs to implement agricultural development projects over which the government will have no authority (not necessarily a bad thing). Considering the success of similar development initiatives, we can expect agriculture to witness a major boom in the next couple of years. Unfortunately these projects are only ever evaluated by...the donors or the NGOs themselves.

Another issue: The current price of wheat is between $300 and $400 a ton, and it has been like that for a few months. Taking $350 as an average figure, the wheat should have sold for $8,750,000. They must have sold it at $200 a ton to get $5 million.

A US donation of $10 million for the reconstruction of the Naher el Bared camp was recently added.

What does this piece of news have to do with NGOs, agriculture, development or Haddad? And in what form did the donation come? As corn flakes?

No comments: