BEIRUT: The Energy Ministry raised petrol prices by more than 35 percent Tuesday, cutting fuel subsidies in a move aimed at alleviating crippling shortages and slowing the drainage of what remains of Lebanon's foreign currency reserves.
The average price of 95-octane gasoline was set at 61,100 Lebanese pounds per 20 liters, an increase of 15,900 pounds, or 35 percent. Diesel prices were set at 46,100 pounds, up 12,800 or 38 percent, the document showed.
The Central Bank said Monday it would start giving credit lines to import fuel at 3,900 pounds to the dollar, a weaker rate than the 1,500 pounds previously offered under the subsidy program. The pound hit a record low of 17,950 to the dollar on the black market last week.
Many gas stations were still closed Tuesday morning in Beirut as they awaited fuel deliveries. The head of the gas stations syndicate, Fadi Abou Chakra, said that overnight Monday six ships offloaded gas and diesel tankers which would begin to be distributed Tuesday.
At a MEDCO station in Gemmayzeh, one of the few open in the city, cars queuing since 7 a.m. snaked up the George Haddad road and around the corner out of sight of the station, while hordes of motor bikers were bunched into the pumps.
Maintenance worker Anas Haidar had been in the queue for around two and a half hours waiting for the station to open at 10 a.m. He told The Daily Star how every week for the past month he has waited in line for two to three hours causing big delays to his work.
But even with the availability of gasoline expected to increase, in theory diminishing queues and enabling stations to conduct regular opening hours, Haidar did not think the situation would improve, “Now the gas will cost more than before,” he said.
Another motorist, Yara, who did not reveal her surname, said that after failing to find an open station Monday she came early this morning and had already been waiting for two hours when The Daily Star spoke to her.
Yara said that the fuel crisis had forced her to reconsider her job, as the daily commute driving to Aley had become untenable. “I work next to Aley but I don’t think I will be going next year. It’s too time consuming, it’s money consuming and I can’t fill my tank always.”
She too shared Haidar’s sentiment that the alleged arrival of more fuel would fail to offer much relief. “I don’t think so, it’s depressing,” she said.
Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history.
The increase in fuel prices is expected to reverberate across sectors, with other commodities likely to bump up prices.
Taxi driver Nadil told The Daily Star that the price of taxi or “service” rides are likely to rise in the coming days. He believed the cost of a taxi could jump from LL20,000 to LL30,000, while a “service” up to LL7,000 from LL5,000.
The cost of living has been rising exponentially in Lebanon this year alone, as a result of the collapse of the pound and consequent rampant inflation which has crippled residents.
Motorists have been queuing for hours to get barely any gasoline for the past few weeks often leading to violent squabbles. Sporadic roadblocks across Lebanon, with a few protesters blocking roadways by burning garbage containers, have spread in the past few days as frustrations have grown.