Lebanon's cabinet approves electricity plan

During a Cabinet session chaired by President Michel Aoun, ministers approved a contentious electricity plan, referring a proposal to the Tender Department to lease additional power barges

Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun talks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2016. Picture taken October 20, 2016.

Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun talks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2016. Picture taken October 20, 2016.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

25 August 2017

BEIRUT: During a Cabinet session chaired by President Michel Aoun in the Chouf mountains Thursday, ministers approved a contentious electricity plan, referring a proposal to the Tender Department to lease additional power barges. A book of terms, which outlines the requirements and conditions that would allow companies to bid for the contract to provide the power barges was approved and sent to the Tenders Department with some comments.

“[The session] was positive and the amendments [to the book of terms] were done chronologically,” Information Minister Melhem Riachi said during a news conference after the session.

“The book of terms will then be taken with the amendments that have been placed on it ... the issue is no longer just about [power] barges but now includes [power] barges and land based [production] plants.”

He added that companies now have three weeks to bid.

The Cabinet session took place at Beiteddine Palace, the president’s summer residence. As is tradition, Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri held a private meeting beforehand.

As the session was about to begin, Aoun requested that a minute of silence be observed in memory of soldiers martyred while fighting in the Lebanese Army’s offensive, dubbed Fajr al-Joroud, against Daesh (ISIS) militants along the northeast border with Syria.

“The majority of the area has been liberated and there only remains a small space [under Daesh control] and work to liberate it will be done at the right time,” Aoun said, addressing ministers.

“The Army has received political and public support and everyone is proud of what it’s doing.”

The president also stressed the need to supply the Army with all that is necessary for it to achieve victory.

A plan to procure more electricity sources to supply Lebanon’s demand has been problematic even before Cabinet demanded a review of the current situationon June 21.

The plan, introduced by Free Patriotic Movement affiliated Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil and endorsed by Hariri, entails renting more power barges, massive electricity generating ships that moor off the coast. Lebanon currently rents two barges already, floating on the coast in Jiyyeh and Zouk.

The proposal to rent more barges was almost immediately dismissed for failing to adhere to legal formalities when the public tender was issued. Abi Khalil’s initial plan was criticized by members of the Cabinet for being overly expensive.

Concerns at the time were raised by MP Walid Jumblatt, Lebanese Forces MPs, Speaker Nabih Berri and the Kataeb Party.

Riachi, following a Cabinet session earlier this month, had said that the new tender documents to lease the power-generating barges should include a temporary insurance guarantee of $50 million for the 400 megawatts. It should also have a final insurance guarantee as well as fines to be levied if a bidding company fails to deliver before a 90-day deadline.

Lebanese Forces affiliated Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani said that having an opportunity to comment on the electricity plan is standard procedure. “The aim is to be keen that the book of terms is comprehensive and that the bidding process is ... [legitimate],” he said.

Marada Movement affiliated Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos said that it was Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, Amal Movement and the Marada Movement that had made comments on the plan, saying that it “remains under study.”

“If the book of terms is not referred to the Tenders Department, as was agreed so that the law of public accounting is followed, there will be a real problem,” he said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.

“They have let out Karadeniz from the door [only to] bring it in through the window,” he added, referring to the Turkey-based parent company of the subsidiary that had won the bid to supply Lebanon with its current electricity producing barges.

Former Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb attacked the electricity plan.

“What the prime minister has told us has increased our conviction that this deal will be held so that the Turkish company that is now known by all the Lebanese will benefit,” he said in statements carried by the state-run National News Agency. “We all aspire toward change and reform. But we are all afraid that change will happen at the expense of reform.”

He added that the period allowed for bidding was so short that the bid will de facto be awarded to the Turkey-based company

Hezbollah’s Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said he had some notes regarding the electricity issue, which would be brought up in the session.

Hajj Hasan also revealed that Syria will be increasing the import of certain Lebanese products, including bananas.

“And we are negotiating on other industries, such as flour, coffee and cereals,” he added.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that he will bring up the issue of Parliamentary by-elections, despite it not being on the Cabinet agenda. Yet during his statement briefing the media on the Cabinet session, Riachi made no mention of the by-elections having been discussed.

By-elections to fill vacant seats – in this case, a Maronite seat in Kesrouan and Tripoli’s Alawite and Greek Orthodox seats – should be held as long as there are more than six months left in the active Parliament’s term, as per the new Lebanese electoral law.

The Cabinet also agreed to financially compensate local apple farmers for losses they had incurred by the end of this month at the latest.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.

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