Lebanon’s deputy parliament speaker Wednesday called for the World Bank representative in the country to be expelled after the official threatened to cut World Bank funding for the coronavirus campaign due to violations by lawmakers.
More than 20 Lebanese MPs received a dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which was supplied using World Bank funds allocated for Lebanon.
But according to the national plan formed by the Lebanese government and agreed to by the World Bank, those above 75 years old and registered on the national platform were supposed to get the vaccine. Any individual who did not meet the criteria was supposed to wait their turn.
Nevertheless, and in a country where corruption permeates nearly every state institution, 26 lawmakers received their first jab at the Parliament building in Downtown Beirut. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens and the elderly waited their turn at designated vaccine centers across the country.
Upon news of this, the World Bank’s Regional Director of the Mashreq Department Saroj Kumar Jha voiced his frustration and disappointment. In a tweet on Tuesday, Jha said this would be recorded “as a breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination.”
He used the hashtag #nowasta, which is an Arabic word used to describe nepotism.
Jha went further and threatened to suspend financing for vaccines and the COVID-19 response to Lebanon.
Upon confirmation of violation, @WorldBank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!! I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.— Saroj Kumar Jha (@SarojJha001) February 23, 2021
On Wednesday, two MPs apologized for receiving the vaccine and not waiting their turn.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli launched a diatribe against media outlets across Lebanon and accused the World Bank official of being a liar.
After Ferzli degraded Jha and purposefully mispronounced his name, using the Arabic word for baby chicken, the Lebanese official said Jha needed to be kicked out of Lebanon.
“You are a liar, and you shouldn’t be allowed to remain in Lebanon. Let Farid Belhaj in Washington send a replacement for you,” Ferzli said in a televised interview where he also accused the TV host of being a “tool” for alternative purposes.
Belhaj is currently the World Bank Group Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. He was previously based in Beirut for several years.
Pushed further, Ferzli was asked how he would expel Jha. “Don’t worry about that. I will deal with the World Bank. It’s none of your business,” Ferzli told the reporter.
The World Bank has not responded to a request for comment.