BEIRUT: Hamra’s small pubs and restaurants are paying the price for attempting to sustain business in difficult economic times.
In Beirut’s once booming nightlife neighborhood, bar owners are already suffering from a nationwide economic slowdown and a drop in alcohol sales due to Ramadan, when many regulars fast. Now they also have to bear the consequences of political bickering.
Within a few weeks after the start of crisis between the Energy Ministry and Electricite du Liban contract workers, power rationing had doubled from three to six hours per day, mainly during the peak working hours between 6 p.m. and 12 a.m.
A number of pub-restaurant owners told The Daily Star that their energy bills have doubled this month after private generator owners raised prices due to increased power rationing.
“We were being charged $120 per 10 Amps per month for six hours of rationing. On average, pubs need a 100-Amp subscription, which amounts to a total of $1,200 a month,” said one pub owner, who asked not to be identified.
Every other business owner who spoke to The Daily Star also requested anonymity, fearing some form of reprisal from private generator owners.
While some have accused private generator operators of blackmailing businesses by threatening to cut power in less than a two-day notice period, others have found the price hike fair when accounting for the increased power rationing.
“An increase in power rationing in some areas outside Beirut from 15 to 18 hours per day is equal to a 20 percent increase in the generator bill, while an increase from three to six hours per day in Hamra is equal to a 50 percent increase in the generator bill,” one business owner said, refusing to accuse generator owners of blackmail.
But even those who found the price hike to be justified have accused private generator owners of “exercising some form of pressure on the neighborhood’s pubs and bars with the backing of a local political party.”
A partner at one of Hamra’s bars said a number of pub owners have discussed the possibility of collectively buying a generator to meet their power needs.
However, they had to reconsider their decision after one nearby landlord who had previously agreed to lease parking space for the generator backtracked on the agreement after coming under pressure from local parties, one pub owner said.
“While owning a generator would lower the energy bill, it won’t be by much since you would still have to pay for fuel, maintenance and parking space,” he added.
Business owners are also complaining of the buildup in EDL bills, which have been on hold for the past five months in many parts of Lebanon, as contract workers who used to distribute the bills are on strike.
“By the end of next month or the one after, we’ll have to pay five or six bills instead of one. That’s almost LL30 million,” one business owner said.
Electricite du Liban warned Tuesday that the country could face a nationwide blackout if contract workers do not end their “takeover” of the state-run company’s headquarters in Beirut.
In an unprecedented move, EDL contract workers blocked off the company’s offices in Mar Mikhael and called for closing other EDL headquarters across Lebanon. They vowed to continue closing off the headquarters until their demand to become full-time employees is met.
Employees manning the National Control Center in the Mar Mikhael headquarters – which controls electricity distribution across Lebanon – were evacuated Monday after being trapped inside, leaving no one to run the center.