Lebanon approves plan to reform ailing electricity sector

The Turkish floating power station Karadeniz Powership Orhan Bey, which generates electricity to help ease the strain on the country's woefully under maintained power sector, is docked near the Jiyeh power plant, south of Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, April 8, 2019. (AP)
Updated 08 April 2019

Lebanon approves plan to reform ailing electricity sector

  • The decision is the most significant by the cabinet since it was formed in late January
  • Hariri on Monday said the cabinet unanimously approved the plan which would improve power supply, raise electricity tariffs

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government on Monday approved a plan to reform its electricity sector, vowing to provide power 24 hours a day from a grid notorious for blackouts.
The decision is the most significant by the cabinet since it was formed in late January and is a step toward unlocking billions in aid pledged to Lebanon in exchange for slashing public spending and overhauling the electricity sector.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday said the cabinet unanimously approved the plan which would improve power supply, raise electricity tariffs and reduce fiscal deficit resulting from government transfers to state-run Electricite du Liban (EDL).
“This plan satisfies the Lebanese people because it will bring them electricity 24/7,” he told reporters after the session.
“It will also reduce the budget deficit,” he said.
Hariri said implementation of the plan was “urgent” and “could not be delayed” because it was critical to Lebanon’s economy.
Energy Minister Nada Boustani, who first presented the plan last month, described the cabinet’s approval as a “positive step.”
The plan still needs to be approved by parliament.
A dated electricity grid, rampant corruption and lack of reform has left power supply lagging way behind rising demand since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
According to the McKinsey & Company consulting firm, the quality of Lebanon’s electricity supply in 2017-2018 was the fourth worst in the world after Haiti, Nigeria and Yemen.
Government subsidies to state-run EDL have also worsened the cash-strapped government’s budget.
EDL receives one of the largest slices of the government’s budget after debt servicing and salaries.
According to the World Bank, government transfers to EDL averaged 3.8 percent of gross domestic product from 2008 to 2017, amounting to about half of Lebanon’s fiscal deficit.
Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 percent of GDP in 2018, according to credit ratings agency Moody’s.
A conference dubbed CEDRE in the French capital in April pledged aid worth $11 billion (9.5 billion euros), promising to stave off an economic crisis.
At the Paris conference, Lebanon committed to reforms including slashing public spending and overhauling the electricity sector.
In exchange, the international community has pledged major aid and loans, mostly for infrastructure projects that need to be signed off by the new government.


Lebanon’s top banker linked to offshores with $100 million in assets

Updated 14 August 2020

Lebanon’s top banker linked to offshores with $100 million in assets

  • No question of criminality raised as scrutiny increases on country’s elite amid financial meltdown and Beirut explosion

DUBAI: Offshore companies linked to Lebanon’s central bank governor own assets worth nearly $100 million, a media group has said in a report, as his role in Lebanon’s economic turmoil comes under intense scrutiny.

The companies tied to Riad Salameh invested in real estate in the UK, Germany and Belgium over the past decade according to a report by a collective of European news outlets called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a nonprofit media organization, and its Lebanese partner, Daraj.com.

The report by the Sarajevo-based OCCRP does not allege any wrongdoing by Salameh, and Reuters has not reviewed any of the documents on which the report is based.

Responding to the report, Salemeh told Reuters he had declared during a TV interview in April his net worth prior to becoming a governor in 1993 and it was $23 million.

“I have shown the supporting documents as a proof. This to eliminate doubts on the origin of my net worth and that it was prior to holding office,” he said.

He said he had previously stated that he asked professionals and trustees to manage his net worth. “The origin of my net worth is clear, this is the important matter,” he said.

Salameh, previously seen as a guarantor of financial stability in the country, has become a focus of anger for street protesters since Lebanon’s financial system collapsed earlier this year under the weight of one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens.

The report into his personal wealth comes at a sensitive time for the country, as Lebanon grapples with the aftermath of an enormous chemical explosion that devastated the capital Beirut, fueling public anger with the country’s leadership.

The OCCRP report also comes after central bank accounts seen by Reuters last month revealed that Lebanon’s central bank governor inflated the institution’s assets by over $6 billion in 2018, showing the extent of financial engineering used to help prop up the Lebanese economy.

The governor told Reuters last month that the central bank accounting was in line with policies approved by the board.

A Lebanese judge last month ordered a protective freeze on some assets held by the governor after ruling in favor of a complaint that he had allegedly undermined the financial standing of the state.

By the end of 2018, Salameh’s assets were worth more than $94 million, the report said, citing balance sheets of Luxembourg companies controlled by the governor.

Salameh said his declaration on his net worth demonstrated he was not trying to escape public scrutiny and was the proof he has “nothing to hide.”