Tunisia coalition faces pressure over PM conflict of interest allegations

Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaks during a handover ceremony in Tunis, February 28, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Tunisia coalition faces pressure over PM conflict of interest allegations

  • The coalition has previously been troubled by disputes among its members

TUNIS: Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh faces opposition party demands to resign over an alleged conflict of interest, potentially unraveling the fragile governing coalition.

The anti-corruption minister said on Tuesday that he had assigned a public watchdog to look into the issue and report back within three weeks, and that Fakhfakh had promised to step down if investigators found wrongdoing.

The row comes as Tunisia tries to put state finances on a sounder footing after years of deficit spending and mounting public debt — issues the coronavirus crisis has turbo-charged.

Fakhfakh became premier only in February after September’s election produced a fractured parliament in which no party took more than a quarter of the seats, leading to months of political crisis.

“The prime minister said that if the error is proven he will resign — and this means the whole government will resign,” said the anti-corruption minister, Mohamed Abbou.

Last week, an independent member of parliament published documents indicating that companies Fakhfakh owns shares in had won deals worth 44 million dinars ($15 million) from the state.

Fakhfakh told parliament he was ready to resign if any violation was proved, but added that he had sold his shares in the companies and rejected accusations of corruption.

The state anti-corruption commission has said Fakhfakh did not inform it that companies where he has shares had commercial deals with the state. Its head, Chawki Tbib, told parliament the firms’ contracts with the state should be canceled.

Abd Karim Harouni, a senior official in Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that is in the coalition and commands the most seats in parliament, said Ennahda was awaiting the results of investigations.

The coalition has previously been troubled by disputes among its members, which include parties with opposing political ideologies and views on key issues such as economic reform.


New board of directors appointed to run Lebanon’s ‘corrupt’ state power company

Updated 08 July 2020

New board of directors appointed to run Lebanon’s ‘corrupt’ state power company

  • Regulation of electricity sector a key condition of international bailout for collapsing economy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government finally appointed a new board of directors on Tuesday to control the state-owned electricity company.
Electricite du Liban (EDL) has long been mired in allegations of corruption and fraud. Its annual losses of up to $2 billion a year are the biggest single drain on state finances as Lebanon faces economic collapse and the plunging value of its currency.
Reform of the electricity sector has been a key demand of the International Monetary Fund and potential donor states before they will consider a financial bailout.
“Lebanon’s electricity policy has been inefficient and ineffective for decades — always on the brink of collapse, but staying afloat with last minute patchwork solutions,” said Kareem Chehayeb of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, DC.
“The economic crisis has made fuel imports more expensive, causing a shortage, with external generator providers hiking their prices or seeking business in Syria. It is a wake-up call to decades of overspending and poor planning of a basic public service.”
The World Bank has described the electricity sector in Lebanon as “tainted with corruption and waste,” and the IMF said “canceling the subsidy to electricity is the most important potential saving in spending.”
Electricity rationing was applied for the first time to hospitals and the law courts, but Minister of Energy Raymond Ghajar said: “The first vessel loaded with diesel for power plants has arrived, and as of Wednesday the power supply will improve.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised the Lebanese people on Tuesday that they would see the results of government efforts to resolve the country’s financial chaos “in the coming weeks.”
Addressing a Cabinet meeting, Diab said: “The glimmer of hope is growing.” However, the appointment of an  EDF board of directors was criticized by opposition politicians. Former prime minister Najib Mikati said the appointments meant “the crime of wrong prevailing over right … is being repeated.”