BEIRUT: The occupation of Electricite du Liban’s (EDL) headquarters is expected to have a dire effect on the revenues of the company next month, a senior manager of the state-owned firm warned Monday.
“The contract workers have blocked access to all the main rooms in the building and have prevented EDL’s staff from carrying out their jobs. This will affect bill collection because all the invoices and receipts are printed in the headquarters. This means that no bill collection will take place next month if the building remains occupied,” Walid Muzher, an EDL board member, told The Daily Star.
He added that if EDL was unable to print invoices the full-time staff would not be able to collect their salaries next month.
“We usually collect around $600 million worth of electricity bills each year and this is sufficient to pay the salaries of all the staff. However, the company can’t release salary orders if there is no cash in the coffers. We will reach a point that EDL’s revenues will hit zero,” Muzher said.
The contract workers occupied EDL’s headquarters in Mar Mikhael, Beirut, two weeks ago in a bid to press the government and the management of the company to hire all of them as full-timers.
But EDL insists that it can only hire 897 workers and cannot accommodate all of the 1,600 of them. The company also wants the workers to undergo tests before they are hired, a demand workers have rejected.
“The contract workers must undergo written and performance tests in accordance with the decision of Parliament. This decision is final and EDL is not going to make any more concessions,” Muzher stressed.
He added that the bill collectors would not be able to collect payments from subscribers next month because all the data and equipment are in the main building.
“The demands of the part-time workers are unreasonable. They can’t force us to accommodate all the applicants. The security forces recently announced they wanted to recruit 500 new persons but the number of applicants exceeded 20,000. No one can accommodate all the applicants in Lebanon,” Muzher argued.
He also warned that electricity rationing could rise if one of the power plants suddenly stopped working for technical reasons.
“All of the spare parts and equipment are in the main building and if anything goes wrong, we won’t be able to carry out the necessary repairs. Let’s hope we won’t reach this stage,” Muzher said.
The open strike by the contract workers has further aggravated the problems of EDL, which has an annual deficit of more than $2 billion due to the high prices of fuel oil that operates most of the existing power plants.
Muzher said EDL collects 95 percent of all the bills, but admitted that electricity theft continued to be a costly problem in many regions.
“Electricity theft is not confined to one area. Some citizens even hook up the cables on the power lines under the eyes of the security forces which make no effort to stop them,” he said.
Muzher said one of the reasons EDL had decided to hire 897 workers was so that they could help the company confront the problem of electricity threat.
He noted that cash flow problems had prompted the Energy and Water Ministry to suspend the construction of new power plants and overhaul existing ones.
Lawmakers from the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc held a news conference to voice support for EDL’s management and denounced the occupation of the company’s headquarters.
The MPs also blasted the government for suspending work on the construction of new power plants, warning that the companies involved in these projects would file a lawsuit against the Cabinet for breaching the terms of the contract.