BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk will start a series of visits Monday to regional and international capitals to garner support for the country’s security institutions, which face a wide spectrum of challenges.
Machnouk, who will take part in a meeting of Arab interior ministers in Algiers starting Monday, told The Daily Star over the weekend that he would pay a visit to Washington later the month in search of training programs to boost the capabilities of the Internal Security Forces and General Security.
Machnouk will also attend the Arab Summit in Cairo at end of March and will wrap up his visits abroad in Kuwait City, where he will take part in the third Syria Donors Conference.
The minister said that when it comes to the security of the Lebanese inside Syria, he will again coordinate with Hezbollah, but denied that Hezbollah’s security apparatus was contributing in maintaining law and order in the country and uncovering terrorist cells.
“We never asked for their help,” Machnouk said. “In reality it’s the other way around; they seek the help of state security apparatuses.”
He added that Hezbollah had its own agenda that differs from that of Lebanese security agencies.
“They have their own agenda, which is tied to Iranian policies in the region,” he said. “Our agenda is 100 percent Lebanese.”
While Machnouk said he was willing to reach out again to Hezbollah’s senior security official Wafiq Safa “in the event the lives of Lebanese in Syria were at stake,” he said rejected all kinds coordination with Hezbollah over internal security affairs.
Last year, Safa paid a rare and controversial visit to the Interior Ministry for talks with Machnouk and other security officials to secure safe passage for residents of the besieged border village of Tfail in northeast Lebanon.
“I think Wafiq Safa’s visit served a purpose,” he said. “I can claim that I succeeded in saving the lives of 1,500 Lebanese residents by driving them away from the raging conflicts in Syria.”
Machnouk said that his ministry has so far garnered $40 million to start building new prison facilities.
He explained that when he was first appointed, the interior ministry lacked all the necessary funds to build new prisons. He said overcrowding was a major problem, since Lebanese prisons across Lebanon, which have an initial capacity of 2,200 prisoners, currently house 7,800 prisoners.
“You know donor countries are not enthusiastic about building prisons. They can give equipment but won’t take up the task of building new facilities,” he said.
So far, Machnouk added, the Lebanese government has given the Interior Ministry $30 million for prisons, and the private sector through the Association of Private Banks has donated $10 million.
He explained that as part of the $1 billion Saudi grant to fortify Lebanon’s security institutions, the ISF and General Security were awarded approximately $450 million.
“We have spent $300 million so far,” he said. “Several contracts have been signed, and the agencies started receiving equipment.”
According to Machnouk, the ISF received $200 million of the $300 million spent, while the General Security received $100 million.
As for the controversy that ensued from his comments that he will not sign contracts from civil marriages performed in Lebanon, Machnouk said his remarks were taken out of context as he was referring to the necessity of having a complete framework that would render those marriages valid and operational.
He argued that laws should be devised to solve problematic matters such as inheritance and personal status.
“This issue requires a whole legislative debate,” he said.
“They cannot accuse me of standing against civil marriage as it it’s a common occurrence in family,” said Machnouk, whose daughter sister and brother had civil marriages.
The minister revealed that he was in contact with the Justice Ministry’s Higher Committee for Consultations regarding the civil marriages performed in Lebanon in past months.