BEIRUT: Caretaker Energy Ministry Cesar Abi Khalil said Tuesday that 24/7 electricity coverage in Zahle would continue – and at a lower cost for residents – after Parliament endorsed a bill on the matter the day before.
The law endorsed by MPs Monday creates a two-year operation contract for local energy producer Electricite de Zahle. Rather than extending a concession EDZ had been given by state energy producer Electricite du Liban, which was the original proposal, the law would switch the partnership to a public-private type of contract, Abi Khalil said.
The renewal of EDZ’s concession had been a divisive topic for months in Zahle. The concession was set to expire at the end of the year and Abi Khalil said he would not renew it, but he had also presented no alternative that would preserve 24/7 electricity.
Had the contract expired with no other plan in place, residents would have moved to a system followed by much of the rest of the country, whereby the state provides electricity for a certain number of hours a day, while residents pay separately for generators to cover the remaining hours.
But the energy minister had maintained that renewing the concession would have been illegal, as Lebanese law, he said, states that no new concessions should be given and that old ones should not be renewed.
The EDZ legislation was discussed by Parliament late Monday evening. It was the last measure to be endorsed during its session, and only after Speaker Nabih Berri called on various MPs who disagreed on the matter to hold a sideline meeting. The meeting included Zahle MPs Assem Araji, Cesar Maalouf, George Okeis and Michel Daher, as well as Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan.
Daher, who like Abi Khalil is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, along with another FPM MP, Salim Aoun, had long been opposed to renewing the concession, claiming that Zahle residents were being overcharged.
The rest of the Zahle MPs had previously showed support for extending the concession, though The Daily Star was unable to immediately verify which way they voted on Monday's bill.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Abi Khalil hailed the new law as a departure from “the concessions that are of the Ottoman age and were [renewed during the French mandate],” and toward public-private partnerships, which have been on the rise, especially in the electricity sector.
He said that EDZ’s good service, administration and employees would all remain the same – the only thing to change would be residents' bills, which would be cheaper. Daher, who sat beside Abi Khalil at the press conference, said residents would begin to notice the decrease at the beginning in January.