|Industry chiefs decry lack of government support
|Lebanese industrialists' anger at what they see as the government's apathy toward their plight grew following news that the state-sponsored Higher Relief Committee (HRC) scrapped a deal to buy $500,000 worth of halva and other locally produced food products. According to the chairman of Sonaco Company, George Nasrawi.
Lebanese industrialists' anger at what they see as the government's apathy toward their plight grew following news that the state-sponsored Higher Relief Committee (HRC) scrapped a deal to buy $500,000 worth of halva and other locally produced food products.
According to the chairman of Sonaco Company, George Nasrawi, the HRC suddenly cancelled a previously signed deal to supply the committee with food items on the grounds that the imported products were cheaper than their Lebanese counterparts.
"It seems that the officials decided to buy the goods from Syria where the prices of fuel oil, sugar, ingredients and labor are much cheaper than Lebanon," Nasrawi told The Daily Star.
He added that the committee had received $100,000 worth of goods from him but suddenly decided to drop his company from the list.
"They did not tell me exactly where they bought the food products but my sources told me that it was from Syria."
The HRC was set up by the government during the 34-day Israeli war on Lebanon to provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of Lebanese displaced during the fighting.
Nasrawi said that he cannot file a lawsuit against the government because this deal was not binding.
"I never dealt with the state before," he said. "This was a bad lesson for me and I will never repeat it again."
Founded in 1975, Sonaco produces beans, cereals, jam, labneh and other cereal and dairy products. The company employs 65 people.
"If the government can reduce the prices of electricity and fuel oil to the same levels of Syria then my prices will go down as well. But if the cost of production remained high then don't expect local manufacturers to drop their prices," Nasrawi said.
Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese Industrialist Association, expressed frustration at the government's total disregard of the local industry.
"Sonaco bought the sugar and fuel oil at a very high cost because of the war and the blockade," Abboud said, adding that it was senseless to sue the state because the effort would lead nowhere.
Abboud added that a ton of sugar in Syria costs $100 while in Lebanon the same product costs more than $600.
Many industrialists perceive Syria and other countries in the region as Lebanon's main competitors, noting that local producers do not have the means to overcome unfair competition with these countries.
Abboud said he was shocked with the current government for its failure to invite the Lebanese industrialists or even the Minister of Industry to the donor conference in Stockholm, which raised $940 million for Lebanon.
"The government's attitude is an insult to the Lebanese industry," Abboud said. "The state behaves as if the industry was not part of the economy."
Abboud stressed that the industrialists will lobby hard to ensure that part of the financial aid the government is getting will be channeled to some of the factories destroyed or damaged by the Israelis. Over 20 industrial plants in the south and the Bekaa valley were destroyed. The Council for Development and Reconstruction estimated the cost at more than $200 million.
"I want to tell the government that the Lebanese industry will survive, get stronger and that we will stay in Lebanon at any cost," Abboud said.
The Daily Star