BEIRUT: Resigned Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi Sunday vowed to provide his hometown of Tripoli with round-the-clock electricity as part of a plan to pull the northern city from poverty.
In a news conference from "SOS Tripoli," Rifi said he contacted former premier and Tripoli MP Najib Mikati “to distance development from politics, and to unify efforts to provide 24 hours of electricity for Tripoli and its environs, for a cost 30 percent less than the current bills.”
Like most of Lebanon, the northern city of Tripoli suffers from severe power rationing on a daily basis due to the country’s ageing infrastructure and failed government plans to address the prolonged crisis.
This often leaves people relying on private generators, the owners of which usually charge hefty prices and are widely unregulated.
Some parts of the country, such as the eastern city of Zahle, have been able to enjoy 24 hours of uninterrupted power for nearly two years now due to successful decentralization achieved by its private company, Electricite de Zahle, which provides electricity during power cuts.
Rifi is seeking to achieve a similar project in Tripoli and its surroundings.
“It is the citizen’s right to have 24 hours of electricity. ... Every (former) energy minister is to blame for depriving the Lebanese people of their constitutional right” of having power, Rifi said.
He said he has contacted Mikati to immediately begin the project by speaking to experts, stressing on the importance of full cooperation to turn the plan into a reality.
Rifi swept the municipal elections in the city back in May, sending shockwaves throughout Lebanon.
Mainstream leaders who had held great influence in Lebanon’s second largest city included Mikati, former ministers Mohammad Safadi and Faisal Karami, and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, who had formed an alliance but were beaten by Rifi’s list.
Rifi warned that copying the private project in Zahle could lead to legal sanctions, claiming however that Zahle has the privilege of using the public power grid whenever it wanted to, whereas in Tripoli they would need permission from authorities.
“I will submit a request to the Energy Ministry, Lebanon’s state-run electricity company and the Qadisha Company [to tell them] that we are ready during the power rationing hours to pay for the use of the public grid,” he said.
In 1964, Tripoli was nourished by privately-held enterprise Qadisha Electricity Company. The company was hailed as a pioneer in its electricity distribution services and upheld global standards of conduct. However, the government claimed exclusive rights pertaining to the provision of electricity after the liquidation of the company.
“There will be obstruction, either from the [Energy] Ministry or a certain political faction. Therefore, we tell people that we will use the public grid by force, because this grid is the property of Tripoli’s people,” he added.
He said people would pay two bills, including one for the state and one for the private company. The latter will be 30 percent cheaper than the current amoung paid to the state-run institution.
He added that the private power company will cease to exist once the state starts to provide round-the-clock power itself.
“Tripoli will be a revolutionary model in Lebanon against the miserable state of the electricity.”
Head of "SOS Tripoli" Jamal Badawi spoke of the authority’s initial plan set out, including the rehabilitation of Tripoli's roads, street lighting across the city, quick measures to address the heavy congestion, using public land to set up parking lots, carrying out work at night so as not to interrupt locals during the day and filling vacant administrative posts.