Charged with neglect

The headquarters of Electricite Du Liban in Beirut, Lebanon. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

Politicians have begun preparing for their next bout of bickering and point-scoring as Lebanon’s 2014 budget makes its annual appearance on the scene, with the electricity saga playing a starring role.

Most people aren’t concerned about detailed figures, but they certainly want to know if this summer will be “hotter” than last year due to increased power cuts.

For two decades, the endemic corruption and waste associated with spending on electricity has grown unchecked as an entire sector of private electricity providers has become more entrenched, along with their allies in the state bureaucracy and a network of fuel traders.

Government officials should move away from backward-looking energy policies and do their job by planning for future needs and not blaming things such as the presence of displaced people from Syria – the Electricite du Liban dilemma was around well before 2011.

Relying on fuel and gas oil, as experts point out, is the wrong way to generate power, and such payments are responsible for the majority of the government’s subsidy to EDL, which is the budget’s third-largest spending item.

The electricity sector is obviously lucrative enough to attract significant investments by the private sector, both local and foreign, but only if officials show they’re serious about eliminating the siphoning of fuel importers and back-up generator operators. Price rises will be accepted by the public, if they get what they deserve – 24-hour electricity – and no longer pay hefty extra fees just to make it through long periods of power cuts.

If officials don’t deal with the root of the problem, then they’re either guilty of negligence or being part of the corruption cycle.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 07, 2014, on page 7.




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