Lebanon's vehicle registration centres reopen after months of closures

Facilities have been intermittently closing since 2019 amid a corruption case

Some drivers in Lebanon have resorted to using fake licence plates and driving unregistered cars. Reuters
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Vehicle registration centres reopened in Lebanon on Tuesday after months of intermittent closures amid a string of crises that have plagued the institution since the onset of the country's economic crisis.

A small but impatient crowd gathered at the Dekwaneh vehicle centre in Beirut, clutching licence plates and awaiting administrative paperwork.

“We've been waiting all morning,” said one of the centre's employees.

Capt Imad Khawle, one of the officers overseeing the operations, said members of the public would have to wait another week to gain access ti all services, including car registration, vehicle inspection, delivery of licence plates and the renewal of driving licences.

The centres will operate three days a week, said Capt Khawle.

“New driving licences cannot be issued at the moment because the Minister of Interior has not yet appointed the examination committee responsible for validating the candidates,” he added.

He said committee members would be appointed within the next three or four weeks.

“The estimated number of people seeking to obtain a new driver licence is 50,000,” he added.

The recurring closures have given rise to growing frustration among the Lebanese.

Some people have resorted to using fake licence plates, driving unregistered vehicles and, in some cases, driving without a valid licence.

Capt Khawle said he expects some backlog but there was not yet an official estimate of the number of new cars that remain unregistered.

The centres were closed for six months following a mass arrest of more than a hundred employees on corruption charges, including alleged illicit enrichment, bribery and the falsification of official documents.

Lebanese media outlets reported a corruption scheme at the centres based on the systemic solicitation of bribes and use of fake documents in the institution.

Several high-ranking employees are being prosecuted, including Hoda Salloum, the general director of the road traffic department.

Almost all employees were suspending awaiting a decision from the disciplinary council.

In April, the Traffic Management Centre was entrusted to Marwan Abboud, the governor of Beirut, as acting director, alongside 30 officers from the International Security Forces.

Both the vehicle registration centres and the ISF are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior.

“Since we assumed control of the facility, appointments are now made through an online platform. This reduces the reliance on intermediaries and minimises interference,” said Capt Khawle.

In July, the centres closed because of a dispute between the Traffic Management Centre and Inkrypt, a Lebanese IT security company that has been collaborating with the state for seven years.

Inkrypt's strike resulted in the complete stoppage of services. “We were unable to access any data,” Capt Khawle said.

The disagreement regarding outstanding payments owed by the Lebanese state was ultimately resolved on Friday following a decision from the Court of Auditors.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 6:10 PM