Former Energy Ministers Reject Blames for Lebanon’s Failed Electricity

Lebanon‘s two former Ministers of Energy and Water Nada Boustani Khoury and Cesar Abi Khalil held a joint press conference at the headquarters of their political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, on February 28th, with the aim of explaining to the public the “truth” about Lebanon‘s electricity, its current standing, past realities, and future prospects.

In her opening statement, Boustani introduced the successful efforts of the ministry, which her party has been in charge of, that have brought Lebanon “to become truly on the map of the oil states.” 

She then explained the purpose of the press conference, which is to clarify the ‘major fallacies’ that were promoted in the media recently related to the electricity file throughout the period in which they, the FPM ministers, took over the Ministry of Energy and Water.

Boustani went on to present the “updated plan” for this sector as follows:

1. The updated plan was prepared by her in collaboration with the World Bank and she received approval from the Council of Ministers unanimously without any reservation.

2. The updated plan has achieved its goals in terms of reducing technical waste, especially with the leakage of the Mansourieh link, and reducing non-technical waste with the start of installing smart meters and carrying out campaigns to control any violations.

3. The updated plan is not a plan for ships, and there is no room for ships, she said. Rather, it is a plan to establish permanent factories combined with temporary factories. These factories have designated plots of land that the state will provide for free.

4. A factory with commodities is not an invention, she pointed out. The Electricite du Liban (EDL) began the acquisition of the lands of the Silata plant in 1978.

Then, the Kuwait Fund for Development funded a study with the global consultant Mott Macdonald to define sites for establishing electricity plants in Lebanon

According to her, this study identified priority sites for laboratories, starting with fAl-Zahrani, then Silata, and thirdly Deir Ammar.

After this, France Electricity conducted a study of the production and transport guidelines and stressed the importance of these decisions.

Boustani went on to address points on the cheapest and most suitable locations for these establishments, gasification stations, as well as the ministerial committee that was formed to oversee matters of bidding and evaluation. 

She also tackled the long hiring process for the Lebanon Electricity Board. According to her, the file of the final selection of candidates was submitted to the Cabinet where it faced rejection.

“Some parties did not agree to the appointment because they considered themselves unrepresented,” she said and added, “We hope the new government will proceed to appoint a new board of directors as soon as possible.”

In her concluding remarks, Bustani stressed on her party’s good work, stating that its amendments have been ready and in the Cabinet and the Parliament since 2012.

And that her party is “totally against” the establishment of organizing bodies under the pretext that they take the powers of the Minister.

She concluded: “In summary, years of work have been faced with lies, slander, and a bash at our dignity. Our files are clear and present, and we had hoped that the issue would have been dealt with in a scientific way away from politics, in accordance with the law, and allow for justice to take its course.”

For his part, former MP Abi Khalil opened by congratulating the Lebanese people on the effective initiation of the oil and gas exploration process nearly ten years after the start of this path and… the success of President Aoun.

He credited that success to the succession of the “right” Ministers and their teams, and the Petroleum Sector Administration Authority who were able to “overcome obstacles and hindrances” and establish a new sector rooted in professionalism and transparency.

Moving into the main purpose of that press conference, the electricity sector, he blamed their political opponents for the electricity issue, stressing that “political targeting by some political parties who had clear stances in the past” as well as  “confessions” have long prevented the implementation of electricity projects.

He stated: “Today we do not speak in the name of the Ministry of Energy, but rather about the period that we [the FPM] took over. And this is because of the volume of rumors and slanders in covering and distorting the truth in front of Lebanese public opinion.”

He stressed that Gebran Bassil had summarized the problem each and every day since their party assumed this Ministry back in 2010: “Low production and increased costs.” 

He went on to discuss their plan, highlighting a need for “increasing production through new electricity production plants, some of which are funded by the Treasury and others from the private sector.”

His talk, to be brief, went on to be accusatory and slanderous, dictating incidents in political history where particular Parliamentarians and Ministers stood in the way of the FPM‘s plan and further hindered their work.

On the issue of behavior and intention of the political class, he went on to deliver several points and statements circulating in the political rhetoric and the media recently.

He tackled statements and allegations made on the station in Beddawi and a coastal gas line which “they stopped”, the subject of Simens and the Kuwait Fund, and “fabricated presentations from some politicians and the media.”

He further went on to discuss the visit of the German Chancellor and the talks that took place with the President of Siemens, which did not materialize, and which were slandered by the media as unproductive.

On the law, Abi Khalil went on to stress that Law 462, which regulated the electricity sector, was passed under pressure from Paris. He claimed it a failed citation and reproduction of the 432 Communications Liberation Law.

He insisted: “Law 181 came to request its amendment, which was done by the Ministry of Energy since March 2013 and submitted by the bloc as a law proposal. It was returned and approved by a ministerial committee during the tenure of Minister Bustani.”

One of the most compelling points of his talk, however, is probably his reference to the ever-so-famous Lebanese Twin Towers: the Zouk Power Plant. He stressed, when it comes to this plant, that there are two main failures to address:

1. The issue of the first tender conducted by the Council for Development and Reconstruction funded by Arab and Islamic funds and the Council of Ministers being canceled because it took 12 years – eventually exhausting all the economic or technical feasibility for it. 

2. The issue of operation and maintenance of the old laboratory performed by the Electricity of Lebanon.

He said its “cost 0.97 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is less than one cent, was divided between $ 0.53 for maintenance and $ 0.45 for operation, with an increase of 50 MW production, i.e. the minimum of the global level that could reach 1.3 Eurocent.”(Not sure where he was going with this.)

In his concluding remarks, he said: “These are the documents that my colleague Nada [Boustani] previously presented, that show that some of our fellow deputies do not want the truth, they just want to slander and increase their affairs at our expense.” 

He wrapped up: “These obstacles were not created today,” referencing the duality in Lebanon‘s electricity provision since the Taef Agreement, as well as insisting that his party would no longer tolerate slander and manipulation of the truth.

Truth be told, on the ground, the reality is painfully sharper than a double-edged knife, and the Lebanese people are girdled by the thorny bushes of crises.

They don’t really care about the details of all these political internal battles, other than they were undertaken at the cost of the citizens’ wellbeing and basic needs.

The people are the ones who have been paying the price and being deeply hurt; not in their sensitivity by words labeled “slander” and “defamation” but in the reality of their own lives.

The people want to eat, to have electricity and water, to live in a clean environment with clean streets, to have proper health care, and the list goes on and on of basic decent life that the successive governments have deprived them of.

There is a reason why at this stage of Lebanon‘s history the Lebanese people are calling against Kellon Yaaneh Kellon. There are always reasons and excuses for failures to deliver, and blames on others, but that doesn’t erase the consequences people have been suffering from for too long.