BEIRUT: A two-week delay in payment for fuel oil by the Finance Ministry could force further electricity rationing in Lebanon, as Elecricite du Liban is now encountering problems unloading the supplies due to the winter weather, a company official said Monday.
“Our efforts to unload this fuel to the power stations Sunday and Monday did not succeeded due to the bad weather and high waves,” the official told The Daily Star. “Unfortunately, our fuel oil reserves have dwindled sharply, and if we can not unload the shipment Tuesday, then we will be compelled to increase electricity rationing all this week.”
The drop in fuel reserves comes after the latest shipment sat offshore for two weeks waiting for funds from the Finance Ministry to be released.
“We only received the funds to buy fuel oil from the Finance Ministry Saturday,” the official said.
“The ships carrying fuel oil have been waiting off the Lebanese coast for two weeks until they received notification from EDL that the allocations had been released.”
Officials say there is no reason for this procrastination since the funds had already been approved by the Cabinet before its resignation.
In principle, the Finance Ministry should release the funds to purchase fuel oil once it receives an official request from EDL, however, bureaucratic procedures have often caused such payments to be delayed.
This delay is exacerbated by the harsh winter storm that the country is bracing for this week. Meteorologists have forecast one of the worst snowstorms in Lebanon in many years.
While the company warned of increased power cuts if the fuel wasn’t unloaded Tuesday, it said electricity rationing in Beirut would not exceed three hours day.
“ Beirut is the administrative capital and for this reason we cannot apply more electricity rationing. However, most regions will experience further power cuts this week if the ships were unable to unload fuel oil to the power plants,” the official said.
Apart from the capital, electricity rationing in most regions of Lebanon ranges between eight to 12 hours a day, but this could increase to 18 hours due to the bad weather and fuel oil shortage.
The country has recently made progress in its effort to reduce rationing, including the leasing of two Turkish electricity barges with a total output of 270 MW.
But the presence of over 1 million Syrian refugees, mounting technical losses and electricity theft have further exacerbated the situation.
Caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi has repeatedly warned that the allocations to the state-run EDL are straining the government’s finances.
EDL’s deficit ranges between $1.8 billion to $2 billion a year, depending on the fluctuation of oil prices in the international markets.