Lebanon: No political solution yet to the electricity crisis

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Protestors burn tires in front of the EDL headquarters in Beirut's Mar Mikhael neighborhood. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Firas Abou-Mosleh

Published Thursday, August 28, 2014

The main political factions that are sparring over energy (and other) issues do not seem to be in a hurry to resolve the crisis at Lebanon’s public power company the Électricité du Liban (EDL), whose building has been occupied by sacked contract workers, amid worsening power shortages in the country. It also appears that the sharp political quarreling over this issue has not reached the stage of “airing the dirty laundry in public” just yet.

Large areas of Beirut and its southern suburbs have been hit with tougher rationing of electricity, with longer power outages than usually scheduled. Some areas within Beirut’s administrative borders are being supplied with only 18 hours a day, compared to the usual 23 hours, creating great confusion among the residents of those neighborhoods, which have no private electricity generators to offset the shortages.

The EDL has attributed the unusual increase in rationing to “unexpected faults in the grid, especially in the two high-tension 66 kV transmission lines of Basta-UNESCO and Basta-Airport.”

In a statement published on Wednesday, the EDL also said, “Engineers from the Transmission Department at the establishment were dispatched (on Wednesday) to the headquarters to get the equipment and supplies needed to conduct emergency repairs on the grid, but could not enter as the gates were blocked with chains and tires. None of the strikers were present there for negotiations to enter.” The EDL then apologized for not being able to make the repairs, “until the relevant authorities put an end to this anomalous situation at the establishment.”

According to EDL sources, the establishment intends to sue the workers who are “spreading rumors and misleading public opinion,” including by claiming that the supplies and equipment needed to make repairs are present in a warehouse in Baouchriye and elsewhere, rather than at the EDL headquarters, as the sources purported.

The persistent closure of the EDL headquarters and many EDL departments in the regions by the striking personnel of the service-providing companies indicates that none of the major political factions concerned with the electricity issue have yet to intervene in earnest to resolve the crisis, amid reports that no negotiations or even contacts are taking place for this purpose at present.

In this regard, EDL sources denied that the establishment has received, either directly or through mediators, any initiative from the former contract workers. This is contrary to press reports that indicated the contract workers had asked the EDL management to: rescind its memo to the Civil Service Council (which determines the vacancies required to be filled on an indefinite-contract basis at 879 positions from class 4 and below); and cancel lawsuits brought against the members of the Contract Workers Committee, and in return – always according to the press reports denied by the EDL sources – the contract workers would reopen the EDL for three days during which direct negotiations can be conducted with the management to find a solution to the crisis.

In the same vein, sources close to Minister of Labor Sajaan Azzi also denied that the Contract Workers Committee had presented such an initiative in its meeting with the minister, but said that they instead proposed an “implicit side agreement,” whereby the workers would accept the contentious memo to be kept in place in return for the Civil Service Council holding exams for the vacancies after which the EDL would agree to hire all those who succeed as permanent employees, regardless of their number.

However, sources in the EDL stressed the EDL management refuses any negotiations, secret agreements, or public agreements before its headquarters and departments in the regions are allowed to reopen and its personnel and customers are admitted, “with everything returning to normal.” Only after that, the EDL sources said, will the management be prepared to discuss all ideas and proposals through “regular channels” and in accordance with Law No. 287 that was passed by parliament.

For his part, head of the Contract Workers Committee Bilal Bajouk denied all reports about negotiations and agreements after the meeting on Tuesday with the minister of labor. Bajouk said that a meeting was held on Wednesday with the NEU (Dabbas) company, which supplies electricity services in the areas south of administrative Beirut, to “organize necessary and major repairs” that the contract workers, as he said, have never stopped carrying out despite strikes and closures “to facilitate the lives of the citizens.” Bajouk also said that there was no communication between his commission and politicians or mediators at present.

On Tuesday, a report was leaked from the office of Ghassan Beydoun, director-general of Investment at the Ministry of Energy and Water, containing a warning to the consultancy firm supervising the service provider project, regarding “the size of financial burdens resulting from the EDL’s continued advance payments to service-providing companies outside the contractual framework,” and the “financial and contractual repercussions” of this. The report also called for “rescuing” the project.

Although a warning like this should represent a matter of public interest, even in a country ravaged by chronic political and security tensions, a source in the EDL reacted by only saying that the EDL management implements the contract (signed with service providers) to the letter, creating many problems with the companies in question and even the consulting firm. The source added that the EDL has responded to the letter from the consultant with a “legal and detailed” response, which he said would most likely remain on the shelf unless political calculations decide otherwise.

In turn, Energy and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian declined to “delve in details” into the issue, distancing himself from the ongoing political disputes. Nazarian said that the director-general of investment at his ministry had the right to make observations, and that the ministry has the right to ask for clarifications from the EDL, indicating that this is “normal” and can happen in any public establishment of corporation. Nazarian also said that Beydoun’s memo touches on “internal matters that must not be leaked,” pointing out that it is the sole prerogative of official regulatory bodies to investigate such issues, alluding to political goals behind the leaking of the document.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

IN FACT TURNING THE EQUIPMENT OFF & ON AGAIN IS DETRIMENTAL TO THE POWER PLANT.
THE STOP / STARTING OF THE MACHINERY THAT CREATES & DELIVERS THE ELECTRICITY, PLACES TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON THE POWER PLANTS CAPACITY TO REACT TO "KNEE JERK COMMANDS" & ULTIMATELY RUING THE EQUIPMENT.

A CONSTANT & CONTINUOUSLY RUNNING SYSTEM - MAINTAINED ACCORDINGLY IS ALSO MORE COST EFFECTIVE.
THEY ARE PLAYING POWER GAME WITH THE PEOPLE OF LEBANON.

ask someone who knows about energy production & delivery -

Victoria's (Australia) electricity supply was privatized.
The new owners felt that it would be groovy if they turned off the power every so often, so they sent notifications to the relevant suburbs to inform them.

THE NOTIFICATIONS & DELIVERING THEM AROUND TO EACH ADDRESS COSTS MONEY....MORE MONEY THAN IT IS WORTH TO TURN OFF THE POWER - MIND.

The power was turned off for several hours, every so many weeks ............. or at least they tried.
There is a nursing home at the end of my street.
There are shops with perishable food stuffs.
There are bakeries with perishable food stuffs.
The meat & seafood wholesalers & retailers.
Restaurants & pubs, cafe's all with food stuffs / perishables that then -
HAVING BEEN UNREFRIGERATED FOR SEVERAL HOURS CANNOT BE SOLD.
Like I said they tried it on us a few times & now they have stopped.
There is no reason for turning the power off but to aggravate the population.
PLAYING THE GAME OF "CHICKEN WITH THE TRAFFIC." - in other words they are asking for it.

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