Power struggle: Political row threatens Lebanon with total shutdown
Lebanon’s only functioning power plant has been shut down as a result of a worsening political dispute between caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the rival Free Patriotic Movement, which controls the country’s energy ministry.
The closure threatens to plunge Lebanon into almost complete darkness.
Electricite du Liban, known as EDL, urged the authorities to solve the issue by opening the necessary credits to unload fuel ships after a row over advanced payments led to a delay in gas oil shipments.
The company’s plea came as a shortage of gas oil, the fuel used to power the plants, forced it to shut down the Al-Zahrani site.
EDL also said that about 6,000 tons of fuel left in the Deir Ammar power plant could only be used for general maintenance work for the installation’s steam turbine.
A political source said that a settlement is unlikely amid the deepening political dispute, with further government paralysis and threats to other essential services a growing possibility.
FPM ministers have overseen the Ministry of Energy since 2009.
The ministry has supplied gas oil ships to meet the needs of EDL’s production plants, which provide one hour of electricity daily for various Lebanese regions, and additional hours for Rafic Hariri International Airport and essential state facilities.
However, the ministry is seeking a $62 million advance to buy 66,000 metric tons of gas oil because of its inability to secure funds.
According to the ministry’s tenders, a shipment of gas oil was due to be unloaded last December, but the failure to issue a treasury advance payment decree delayed the process.
Mikati has refused to approve an emergency decree to pay the advance.
His adviser, Faris Al-Jameel, told Arab News that any advance required Cabinet approval.
He added that EDL had to explain how the advance would be paid back, so it would not be added to already outstanding advances that so far have cost the Lebanese state $40 billion.
Before granting a treasury advance, Lebanon’s central bank had requested a written undertaking on EDL’s readiness to repay the funds.
However, EDL failed to provide an undertaking in its advance request.
Procedures for requesting the advance have been hampered by the deepening government dispute, with the FPM refusing to hold Cabinet meetings in view of the presidential vacuum.
A political source said that the energy ministry team is pressuring Mikati to make decisions outside the Cabinet, while the caretaker prime minister wanted to establish his role by taking decisions during Cabinet meetings.
Meanwhile, three gas oil ships remain anchored offshore, resulting in delay penalties, with daily losses estimated at $20,000.
Energy Minister Walid Fayyad claimed that docking fines have exceeded $300,000 to date.
Ghassan Baydoun, former director-general of the ministry, said the ministry is accountable for losses incurred by the state as a result of fines.
He said that FPM ministers who took over the ministry were accustomed to outsourcing and concluding agreements while funding was not available, leading to considerable fines incurred by the state.
Jean Ellieh, head of the Public Procurement Authority supervising tenders, said that energy ministry deals were taking place without legal foundation, and energy ministers had broken laws to cover their violations.
An emergency trade union meeting on Thursday in Beirut called on officials to elect a president without delay and launch an immediate rescue program for the country.
Representatives from the Free Professions Unions, General Labor Union, education associations and the Teachers Syndicate called for action to be taken against officials who “fail to promptly carry out their constitutional and national duties.”