The World Bank threatened Tuesday to suspend financing for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon over what it said were suspected violations by lawmakers who were inoculated in parliament.
Such a move by the World Bank would have grave consequences as Lebanon struggles through severe financial and economic crises and is in desperate need of aid. The World Bank said last month it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people. The vaccination campaign in the country began on Feb. 14 and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 shots of Pfizer-BioNTech.
“Everyone has to register and wait for their turn! #nowasta,” the World Bank’s regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweeted, using a Lebanese term meaning that there should not be nepotism.
The World Bank “may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!” he warned. “I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”
He added that the vaccination “is not in line with the national plan agreed with @WorldBank and we would record it (as a) breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination.”
Lebanon is notorious for corruption and nepotism, which has brought the Mediterranean nation to bankruptcy.
Abdul Rahman Bizri, who heads the committee supervising the vaccination campaign, held a news conference later Tuesday in which he announced that he backed down from a decision to submit his resignation and that he has called the committee’s members for a meeting on Wednesday to “discuss the reasons and justifications” for the controversial vaccination of the 16 MPs.
“What happened today was a breach of the vaccination process over which we cannot remain silent,” he added.
“What happened today is outrageous and should not be repeated,” Bizri said. “There is no political priority.”
Bizri said that before he held the news conference he discussed the matter with the regional director of the World Bank.
Parliament’s secretary general Adnan Daher was quoted by state media denying that the 16 legislators had jumped the line, which prioritizes medical workers and residents at least 75 years old. Daher said all of the legislators who received in inoculation had registered and were properly in line.
TV networks reported that some of the MPs are not over 75 and identified the 16 lawmakers as Nabih Berri, Abdul Rahim Mrad, Wehbe Qatisha, Mustafa al-Husseini, Ali Osseiran, Nicolas Nahas, Ghazi Zoaiter, Elie Ferezli, Salim Saadeh, Yassine Jaber, Anis Nassar, Asaad Hardan, Michel Moussa, Anwar al-Khalil, Fayez Ghosn and Albert Mansour. The reports said five parliament employees also received the vaccine — Adnan Daher, Riad Ghannam, Mohammed Moussa, Nicolas Menassa and Simon Mouawad.
MP Michel Moussa later clarified that he had received the vaccine days ago “as a physician who is registered (on the platform) via the Order of Physicians and after the approval of the Health Ministry.”
In January, Lebanon’s government launched a digital coronavirus vaccination registration platform to people living in the tiny nation.
The World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have signed an agreement for independent monitoring of Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.
“There were many violations that took place at vaccination centers,” said Sharaf Abu Sharaf, president of Lebanese Order of Physicians. He added in a statement that violations included vaccinating people who were not registered or not included in the first phase of the campaign.
News that MPs had received their injections sparked anger on social media, in a country with a long reputation for government corruption.
“My mom is 84 she is registered and didn’t (have) her turn yet, while all the politicians, (their) families and friends will be vaccinated before her,” said one Twitter user.
Lebanon, a country of six million people including a million Syrian refugees, has registered more than 356,000 coronavirus cases and 4,387 deaths since the first case was registered in February last year.