German firms unveil lavish post-blast Beirut port plan
Beirut (AFP) –
A German delegation on Friday unveiled a spectacular multi-billion-dollar project to rebuild Beirut port and its surroundings but admitted it was contingent on far-reaching government reforms.
Swathes of the port and adjacent neighbourhoods were destroyed when fire ignited poorly stored ammonium nitrate on August 4, causing one of the world's largest ever non-nuclear explosions and killing more than 200 people.
The ambitious German project was met with scepticism by some observers who argued Lebanon's leaders were showing no sign of providing the most basic conditions for foreign investment.
The plan put forward by two German firms envisions moving most port activity away from the city centre and re-urbanising the most damaged areas.
Speaking at a press conference in Beirut, Colliers Germany managing director Hermann Schnell listed "affordable housing for families, green space and good infrastructure" among other features.
The project envisions beaches and a "central park" alongside restored architectural heritage, all wrapped in a plan that would generate 50,000 jobs and billions in profit.
The German pitch saw an "opportunity for a new city", mapped out in a presentation that featured what it said were successful examples of redeveloped ports in cities like Cape Town, Bilbao and Vienna.
Lars Greiner of Hamburg Port Consulting (HPC) said the concept would "develop the port precinct of Beirut into a world class, state-of-the-art port" that would be more automated, cost-efficient and ready for regional trade growth.
- Transparency -
The private initiative is the first large-scale, comprehensive plan after last year's blast and has the support of Germany, whose ambassador attended the press conference.
Other international players are also working on alternative or complementary proposals.
French shipping giant CMA CGM, which leads container operations in Lebanon, submitted its own master plan in September.
"Such a huge project... can only be built if there is accountability and transparency," German ambassador Andreas Kindl said at the news conference.
The project envisions the creation of a trust overseen by independent international appointees to manage funding from the European Investment Bank and other investors.
"I don't see these proposals... becoming reality anytime soon," economist and anti-government activist Jad Chaaban told AFP.
"Who today is prepared to invest one penny in a country whose collapse is in full swing, which has no government and defaulted on its debt?"
The German team admitted the corruption that has defined Lebanese politics for decades was an obstacle.
"What's on the table is incredible... The only thing that you really need to do is make sure that there is transparency, that's it," HPC managing director Suheil Mahayni told AFP.
"We don't dream, we have a clear vision... But if some pre-conditions are not fulfilled and don't allow full transparency, it's not going to work," he said.
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