Qabbani blames Cabinet, Bassil for electricity barge saga

Future Movement MP Mohammad Qabbani speaks during a press conference at the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: MP Mohammad Qabbani Wednesday slammed the caretaker Cabinet over the stoppage of the Fatmagül electricity barge after a local newspaper published a December letter from the Lebanese Consulate in Istanbul regarding the Turkish operator.

“Why are you negotiating [with the Turkish company] to reach a solution? Are you looking for making those responsible [for the stoppage] ambiguous?” Qabbani, who heads Parliament’s Public Works and Energy Committee, said at a news conference.

“The letter of the General Consul in Istanbul was an extremely clear warning that fuel specifications can be used [as a pretext] by the Turkish company like what happened in Pakistan.”

An-Nahar published Wednesday the letter sent by Consul Hani Chemaitelly to the Foreign Ministry warning that Karadeniz Holding AS, the owner of the ship, had fined the Pakistani government “huge amounts” in daily fees over a period of 7 months, because fuel shipments did not match the contract.

Karadeniz is in a long-standing legal conflict with Pakistan. Earlier this year it sued Pakistan at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, seeking $600 million for breach of contract.

The company alleged that the two ships contracted by Pakistan had been mostly idle because the government failed to provide fuel oil.

Pakistan has held the two Turkish ships since the Supreme Court suspended Karadeniz’s license in March 2012, as a part of a wide investigation into corruption in the energy sector.

Citing a meeting with a Pakistani official last year in Istanbul, Chemaitelly said the fines raised concerns of investigators that Pakistani officials and Karadeniz were complicit in corruption.

“The company took advantage of the divisive political scene to make large amounts of profits without any care to professional factors including providing electricity to a city of 18 million people, the very reason it was contracted,” the diplomat said in the letter dated Dec. 20, 2012.

“[The Pakistani official] recommended that the Lebanese government be careful about [ambiguous] contract terms especially the ‘but and if’ terms, particularly given that Lebanon like Pakistan has taken the responsibility of providing the suitable fuel for the ships,” the envoy said.

Qabbani said the government failed to take action in spite of the fact that the diplomat’s letter was forwarded to senior officials.

“According to my information, the letter was forwarded to offices of the top three leaders and the energy minister and it was resent, to the same sides, about a week ago,” he said.

An-Nahar reported the letter was shelved by the Foreign Ministry.

“If the fuel matched the requirements, then there is a failure in the barge’s generators ... and if it didn’t what about the similar generators operated by Electricite du Liban?” Qabbani asked at the news conference.

The Turkish operator shut down the electricity barge earlier this month, saying the fuel supplied by state-run EDL violated the contract. It later said EDL would provide contract-compliant fuel but did not specify when a shipment was due.

Sources estimate the shipment is due in a few weeks.

Energy Minister Gebran Bassil denied Wednesday that the Lebanese state was losing any money because of the shutdown of the ship.

“Lebanon is renting electricity and there is no financial loss because it only pays for the amount of electricity produced,” he said, adding that Lebanon was only contractually responsible for providing fuel.

EDL has denied that the fuel it provided violated the contract, citing tests by international labs.

Karadeniz sources, however, said that while a first fuel shipment was acceptable, a second load fell short of the contract. An Energy Ministry source confirmed the firm’s claims to The Daily Star last week.

Qabbani also said there were legal violations in the contract signed by the Energy Ministry and Karadeniz.

“EDL is financially and administratively independent and should, in principal, sign the contract [with Karadeniz] and then forward the contract to the energy minister and the Cabinet,” he said.

“We hope to receive answers to these questions in the [committee session] next Tuesday.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2013, on page 5.




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