Funds needed to complete security upgrades at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport have still not been approved, according to Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, who said that he has been calling for the funds since 2014.
“There has been a lot of talk recently about security fears at the Rafik Hariri International Airport," he said in a press conference on Tuesday. "Since becoming minister, all technical and administrative matters have been nearly completed ... The funds needed to fully upgrade the airport however have yet to materialize," Zeaitar continued.
He touched on the issue of the much needed airport perimeter fence, which the European Union has warned Lebanon about before.
“Only in 2014 were we given the money to build this fence, and these funds were approved in 2010," Zeaitar said. "What is needed now are the funds for the technical and administrative issues inside the airport,” he reiterated.
Zeaitar pegged the airport's financial shortfall at $24 million, and revealed that the state’s Auditing Department asked the ministry last year to find a way to build the fence at a lower cost, which Zeaiter said cost $1.4 million.
"I am not placing blame or accusing anyone, but we need to cooperate in order to fulfill our duties,” he said.
Regardless of whether the Cabinet approves the funds on Thursday or not, Zeaiter said he will direct the appropriate contractor to begin work at the airport "with the ministry’s available budget.”
Zeaiter rejected accusations of corruption when a reporter asked if officials were trying to pocket commissions from the bidding process, and accused the media of fabricating allegations and exaggerating airport security threats.
His press conference comes a week after Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk vowed to address security gaps at the airport in the aftermath of the Brussels airport and metro suicide attacks, which killed more than 30 people.
Machnouk acknowledged that administrative hurdles over the past 20 months have prevented the awarding contracts for companies to build the fence around the airport, and to buy advanced equipment to screen luggage.
Machnouk also said he instructed the head of airport security, Brig. George Doumit, to tighten security measures at the airport.
Machnouk had said in January that British Airways and Air France were contemplating stopping flights to Beirut due to airport security concerns.
Zeaiter had dismissed Machnouk's claims that the airport had "serious problems" that should no longer be overlooked, and emphasized that the airport had boosted safety and security measures.
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