Lebanese dissatisfied with government services

Friday 20/11/2015
Power cables are chaotically mounted at a residential area of Sibline village, in the Chouf area, Mount Lebanon, on October 26th.

Beirut - Abdullah is fed up with paying twice for electri­cal power.
“I pay two bills for electricity — one for the government and the other for the generator in our neighbourhood,” said the 51-year-old, who is married with two teenage children. “For water, it’s three bills — the govern­ment, the owner of a tanker who sells us water for everyday use a private company that sells us drink­ing water.”
Abdullah, who lives in an eastern suburb of Beirut where outages in government-supplied electricity can reach 18 hours a day, pays the equivalent of $80 to the govern­ment every two months and $60- $100 to the generator’s owner every month, although the government sets the latter rate at $54-$81.
“We’re subscribed to 5 amperes only in the generator, compared to 10 amperes in the regular service,” he said. “With 5 amperes you can barely turn on a fridge, a television set and two or three lamps at a time. Air conditioning is out of the ques­tion.”
Mansour, a 49-year-old Lebanese living in Beirut, is a little better off. Outages reach up to six hours daily in the financial and political hub. The widower who is the father of two young girls is subscribed to 15 amperes to both the government power service and a generator joint­ly owned by the occupants of the building where he lives.
“I pay around $150 to the govern­ment every two months and $30 for the generator,” he said. “The generator costs us only fuel, oil and maintenance. There’s no generator owner who wants to make money.”
Outages have plagued Lebanon since its 1975-90 civil war and the power crisis is a legacy of that con­flict, which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. An ambi­tious reconstruction process was launched in 1992, led by Prime Min­ister Rafik Hariri, whose assassina­tion in 2005 sent Lebanon to the brink of another civil war.
Lebanese households spent on average $1,300 on electricity in 2013, two-thirds on generators, in a country where the gross national income per capita is $9,800, ac­cording to World Bank estimates. Generation capacity falls more than one-third short of demand and about 45% of what is produced is lost in the network because of il­legal connections, tampering with meters or technical reasons, says the organisation, which in a recent report blamed Lebanon’s sectarian political system for many of the country’s ills, including electricity supply problems.
The government spends $2 bil­lion every year to purchase fuel for the Électricité du Liban (EDL), the government-owned power com­pany that has monopoly on the sec­tor and sells power at subsidised prices, said a parliamentary source. “This is almost more than 15% of public spending,” he said, admit­ting that political bickering and corruption have stopped solutions from coming into being, including a decrease or a full removal of sub­sidies.
“A major overhaul of the system to get 24-hour power would take $5 billion to $6 billion based on the government’s estimates. The plans are there and financing can be han­dled through borrowing or partner­ships with the private sector,” the lawmaker said. “You simply need a decision to start the overhaul,” he added, arguing that a 15-year gov­ernment plan, announced in 2010 to eventually provide 24-hour elec­tricity across the country, could still be applied with some amendments if any.
The country is shackled by gov­ernment paralysis and widely per­ceived corruption that put a brake on development. Public dissatis­faction has been fed by anger over rubbish being left to fester in the streets, widely seen as another sign of the political paralysis. Tensions have been exacerbated by the con­flict in Syria, which has driven into Lebanon more than 1 million refu­gees who put more strain on infra­structure.
EDL’s problems arose from a lack of major investment in produc­tion, transmission and distribution from 1997 through 2013, complex laws and regulations dating from 1972 and staff cuts, a source in the Ministry of Energy and Water said. “Full or partial privatisation can be a solution but how to get to a deci­sion on this seems even harder than solving the power problem itself.”
In the eastern city of Zahle, the local electricity company, a rare utility concession that buys power from the national grid, built its own power plant and sells electricity for unsubsidised prices. Many Électric­ité du Zahle (EDZ) installations have been subject to sabotage blamed by EDZ on owners of generators in the area now out of business.
MP and former prime minister Najib Mikati and MP Mohammad Safadi announced in September plans to end power cuts in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and their hometown, through the establish­ment of a private electricity com­pany. In October, Byblos InvesBank announced that it had acquired a stake in an existing electricity com­pany to provide around-the-clock electricity to Jbeil region.
“Électricité du Jbeil (EDJ) is a concession, similar to EDZ. The concession for Tripoli, the Électric­ité du Qadisha (EDQ) was similar, too, but was liquidated in 1986,” the parliamentary source explained. “In the current unfavourable politi­cal atmosphere, it would be hard to revive EDQ,” he said.