Amid constant blackouts, Energy minister awarded prize

Amid constant blackouts, Energy minister awarded prize

If you live in Lebanon, you would probably fall out of your chair if I told you government ministers were being awarded for public services. With no constant supply of water or electricity, no sewage treatment, poor roads and zero police presence to maintain public safety on highways, most Lebanese know very well that the state is not an award-winning–or even a decent– provider of anything. As a result, people have to fend for themselves, installing their own water tanks and generators.

The problem is that diesel-fueled generators, used to provide power (and pump water) are terribly expensive and polluting. The air quality in Beirut is dangerously toxic according to researchers at AUB and generators are one of the biggest culprits. This summer is one of the worst yet with the state frequently providing less than six hours per day in many areas.

In addition to pollution, dark streets pose a danger on their own. Here’s Beirut’s most famous road, the seaside Corniche, last week:

It’s a place where thousands walk and jog at night, now increasingly by flashlight:

But it can also be dangerous during the day, in the city’s network of dark tunnels:

So how is it that amid this haze of polluted air, dark and dangerous streets, and citizens spending all of their money on fuel, that Lebanon’s energy and water minister wins an award for “Energy Ambassador of the Year”?

I’ve checked the website of “Beirut International Energy Forum” which issued the medal to Minister Cesar Abi Khalil, but there were no details about the selection process, the jury or the basic criteria that makes candidates eligible. We are only provided with two sentences (that sound almost the same) about this award:

Over the past years, IBEF has given awards to the top leading personalities in the Energy sector for their achievements. Since 2013, the International Beirut Energy Forum acknowledges energy professionals and professional institutions for their achievements in the sustainability sector.

So what achievements are we talking about here? What achievements have been made when Lebanon has not had stable electricity production or transmission since the network was built during the first half of the century? What sustainability are we talking about when Lebanon’s energy is produced by burning fossil fuels at decrepit plants spewing black smoke out of their exhaust towers? What’s more, nearly half of the supply is not even produced by the state itself, but by rented power ships from Turkey parked off of our coastline? Is that sustainable?

Zouk power plant. Credit: L’Orient Le Jour

And as citizens pay more money for electricity every year, politicians are only getting richer, and there are rumors that many do not even pay for electricity in the first place. People will often boast that the power rarely cuts in their neighborhood due to the presence of a politician or state institution nearby.

Meanwhile, in much of the county, blackouts can last for over 12 hours, and power can even be out for several days, due to lack of maintenance, downed lines and very slow repairs.

But there is no need to single out minister Abi Khalil. Many officials and business owners profit from the electricity sector and its lucrative black market. Abi Khalil is the latest in a long line of ministers to make big promises about the future. In fact every Energy minister since the first postwar government in 1992 has promised 24 hour electricity and failed to do so:

Over that period, billions of dollars have been poured into the country’s power grid but corruption seems to be the only winner. The same can be said of other public service sectors, such as waste management, water distribution and telecommunications, where services are poor and yet citizens are paying some of the highest rates in the world for them.

Indeed to survive in Lebanon, is a feat on its own. Perhaps it is Lebanese citizens that should be getting awards instead of the privileged politicians and the daily incompetence we must endure.

 

 

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