By Van Meguerditchian
Thursday, December 23, 2010
BEIRUT: Activists and MPs urged the government to drop custom duties on safety products and institute proper quality control measures Wednesday, as part of a multi-pronged campaign to boost public safety.
“To avoid taxes, retailers are importing junk [safety] products for a dollar or two and are marketing them for higher prices throughout the country,” said Ziad Akl, the founder of Youth Association for Safety Awareness (YASA).
In collaboration with the Lebanese Association for School Safety Awareness, and the Association for Sports Injury Prevention, activists held a news conference to voice support for efforts by the Interior Ministry and a parliamentary committee tasked with drafting amendments to the traffic law.
Akl urged the government to enforce quality-control procedures, instead of levying a 20-percent customs duty on imported safety products such as helmets for two-wheeled vehicles or ATVs, and helmets used by construction workers.
“Products that are designed to be specifically used for safety purposes should at least be exempt from custom duties,” Akl said, arguing this would steer importers away from seeking out cheap versions of vitally important items.
While the Industry Ministry handles quality control of industrial materials, Akl said Lebanon lacks an official authority to inspect imported safety products.
He told The Daily Star that he was aware of no locally produced safety goods that would be hurt by a reduction on customs duties.
While new government safety measures and legislation are needed, the YASA founder stressed the importance of implementing laws that are already on the books, adding that “the compulsory fastening of seat belts in cars was first passed in 1967, but was only implemented after decades in 2001.”
Attempts to enforce the seat belt law have come in fits and starts following the Civil War, and the authorities launched their latest effort earlier this year.
YASA an international non-governmental organization was established as a university club in 1994 after the death of a 19-year-old student in a car accident.
YASA focuses on building public awareness to prevent unintentional injuries and deaths, and its activities aren’t just limited to traffic safety.
Zahle MP Joseph Maalouf, who serves on Parliament’s Public Works and Transportation Committee, told the conference that he would lobby for removing customs duties imposed on safety products.
Earlier this month, lawmakers from the Public Works Committee drafted a list of amendments to be added to the current national traffic law. However, the full legislature has yet to vote on the draft, amid disputes that have paralyzed both Parliament and the Cabinet
Baabda MP Hikmat Deeb, who attended Wednesday’s news conference, said despite the current political disputes, the new traffic legislation will gain approval, because all parties believe it is a necessity.
The activists also called for boosting public transport to reduce traffic across the country and promoted the latest attempt to map Greater Beirut’s bus routes, published by Zawarib Beirut, covering the 15 bus routes that operate from Beirut to Aley, Jbeil and Khaldeh.