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Town of Jezzine looking to get facelift amid myriad challenges

Miscellaneous

A government shirking its role in local development, laws that complicate municipal work, and funding that is just out of reach are just a few of the challenges facing the country’s municipalities.

This article was originally published on the Daily Star News website (www.latestnewsinlebanon.com) on June 23, 2011, written by Mohammed Zaatari.
But the municipality of Jezzine is taking such obstacles in stride, seeking out sources of funding and developing local projects to improve the town.
Jezzine enjoys beautiful natural scenery and has become a bustling town that attracts a wide range of tourists.
The old marketplace, which is 150 years old, has seen a boom over the past two months as renovations kicked off with funds from the EU, under the supervision of the municipality.
The project, which will be completed in a few weeks, aims to transform the marketplace into a heritage site and invoke the town’s history by standardizing the shop facades and cobbling the marketplace’s street. New lighting will also be installed.
Although the residents of Jezzine are optimistic about the rehabilitation of the old marketplace, some believe it is not enough.
“Where is the balanced development? We want vital projects and sustainable human development,” said Abu George, the owner of a store that manufactures knives, for which the town is famous.
Most residents of Jezzine seem satisfied with the work of the municipal council, which was elected last year.
“One year is not enough to evaluate the experience, but there is an approach of change and reform,” said Rita, a Jezzine resident.
But local politics are also complicating municipal projects and not everyone is satisfied with the new council’s projects.
Opponents of the municipal council accuse it of dereliction of duty, and supporters of former MP Samir Azar, who is close to Speaker Nabih Berri, accuse the “Aounist” council, as they refer to it, of “committing violations such as giving away municipal property free of charge for establishing stables on them.”
The municipal council denied the accusation, saying that it approved the use of municipal land for cattle, but no stables were established. Jezzine Mayor Walid Helou fired back, accusing the former municipality of misusing municipal property during its tenure.
“With all due respect to the Lebanese Army, the former municipality gave it the most beautiful spot in Jezzine to establish a military barracks,” he said.
A municipal project to develop the Patriarch Meouchy roundabout, installing a pond, a flower garden, and a bust of Patriarch Paul Meouchy, was also criticized by the council’s opponents, who claim that the project was a veiled attempt to remove a clock tower that was erected in 2005.
The current municipality justified its decision to remove the clock tower arguing that it took up too much space and did not fit well in its surroundings.
Considering the conflict over a clock tower, it’s not surprising that Helou, who won the 2010 municipal elections on the Free Patriotic Movement’s list, describes municipal work in Lebanon as exhausting.
The mayor also points to restrictive municipal laws, which drove him to adopt “administrative decentralization” to simplify local governance.
“Jezzine suffers from big problems and I’m prepared to assume responsibility and face these problems and difficulties,” said Helou.
He also called for detaching the directorate-general of Municipalities from the Interior Ministry and establishing it as a separate entity.
“The municipalities must be liberated from the Interior Ministry as interior ministers neglect municipalities and their work is limited to issues concerning their ministry,” Helou argued.
Helou strongly denied that his team’s work was politicized, saying the local council served every resident in Jezzine and was concerned with development work, not politics. He also denied that his municipality destroyed a dream held by locals, by halting the construction of an artificial waterfall.
“The artificial waterfall did not work from the beginning,” Helou said adding: “The project failed because it wasn’t carefully studied and it cost $100,000.”
Some of the municipality’s future projects include building two roads in the village of Ain Majdaline, numbering streets and houses, building a factory on municipal land to ensure jobs for the town’s residents, and establishing around 10 residential buildings to house 70 homeless Jezzine families.
“We are looking for funding and searching for financiers,” Helou repeated, adding that the funds supplied by the central government were not sufficient to pay employees’ salaries and the daily work of the municipality.
According to Helou, the central government is holding $1 million in funds that should be allocated to the town and warned that if the money doesn’t come through, Jezzine’s summer festivals might be canceled this year.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2011, on page 3.
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2011/Jun-23/Town-of-Jezzine-looking-to-get-facelift-amid-myriad-challenges.ashx#axzz1Qy1iWnoM
 

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