Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon

Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon
Anti-government protesters attack a member of Lebanese police intelligence in Beirut after they saw him taking pictures of protesters. (File/AP)
Short Url
Updated 08 June 2021

Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon

Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon
  • Internet will stop if fuel is unavailable, warns telecoms minister 

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun has approved an exceptional loan of up to LBP300 billion ($197 million) for the state electricity company to import fuel before supplies run out, according to an official statement.

His approval came days before the country was due to experience a total power blackout.
The hours for electricity rationing in various regions reached minimum levels on Monday morning, with supply to some areas no longer exceeding half an hour a day, and there were increased protests from people after generator owners hiked their service tariffs so that bills became more than LBP700,000 a month, whereas the minimum wage is LBP675,000 a month.
The head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers in Lebanon, Bechara Al-Asmar, said that less than 5.51 percent of the population enjoyed the “blessing of electricity, fuel, communications and food in their palaces, not concerned with the daily deaths at the doors of hospitals, the oppression and the anger in people’s hearts every moment.”
He warned of a “great explosion” that would spare nobody, no matter how high up they were or what position they occupied.
On May 28, the finance minister in the caretaker government, Ghazi Wazni, sent a request to the Banque du Liban (BDL) to open four credits worth $62 million to supply electricity production plants with fuel, but the BDL requested government approval.
On Monday afternoon, Aoun agreed to issue the “exceptional approval” for the credits so that Electricite du Liban (EDL) could purchase fuel through the treasury advance.
“The rationalization of subsidies will not currently include fuel or diesel used by generators,” a Finance Ministry source told Arab News.
“It is currently limited to gasoline, along with medicines for incurable diseases and wheat, in order to ensure the continuation of pumping life into the arteries of the state.”
The source also said that the BDL governor, Riad Salameh, had “reduced the reserves from $15 billion to $14 billion in order to be able to spend.”
Telecommunications Minister Talal Hawat tried to reassure people that Lebanon would not return to the “carrier pigeon” and the telecoms sector would not be cut off as long as the BDL secured the necessary funds to purchase fuel.
“Of course, if fuel is not available the internet will stop, but we are not currently at this stage as the energy minister provides us with the required quantity to run the work of all terrestrial and cellular networks. Today we need three times the amount that we used to use previously, that is from 25,000 tons to 70,000 tons per day, due to power outages.
“The network’s electricity generators for emergencies can cover about eight hours, but they are currently working between 20 and 21 hours a day, and there are malfunctions that must be fixed. The budget for operating and maintaining the ground network allocated LBP48 billion from the budget approved by the previous government, and this number is very small with the high exchange rate of the dollar.
“We are working to add an amount of LBP30 billion so that we can pay the obligations until the end of the year and complete the maintenance work. Otherwise, services will be reduced.”
The head of the Association of Power Generator Owners, Abdo Saadeh, said generator owners would adopt a rationing program, meaning the machines would stop daily for between four and five hours.

BACKGROUND

• On May 28, the finance minister in the caretaker government, Ghazi Wazni, sent a request to the Banque du Liban to open four credits worth $62 million to supply electricity production plants with fuel, but the BDL requested government approval.

• On Monday afternoon, President Michel Aoun agreed to issue the ‘exceptional approval’ for the credits so that Electricite du Liban could purchase fuel through the treasury advance.

He said the reason for this move was the “harsh rationing” applied by the EDL and the lack of diesel in the market.
Saadeh spoke about the difficulty in collecting service tariffs from people because a large percentage of them were unable to pay the bills. He rejected the description of generator owners as “mafias.”
“When the ruling class managed the electricity service for tens of years, it looted the $47 billion allocated for electricity and failed to improve it, so who is the mafia?”
The diesel shortage is accompanied by a gasoline shortage as a result of the monopoly,  smuggling to Syria, and the emergence of a black market for fuel. The price of a gasoline canister is LBP100,000.
On Sunday, a man in the Bekaa town of Al-Qaa burned his car because he was unable to fill it with fuel, according to the National News Agency.
As people queued in front of petrol stations to obtain 20 liters, Lebanese Army Command announced on Monday that units in the Bekaa and the north had arrested seven nationals and one Syrian in the past three days.
They thwarted a plot to smuggle about 42,750 liters of diesel and 3,850 liters of gasoline to Syria, in addition to a ton of cement.
The materials were loaded into three trucks, five cars, two vans and a bus.


Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
Updated 20 September 2021

Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Health minister said total number of registered infected people in Egypt is 296,929, with 16,970 deaths

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed announced that 546,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been received from the French government.

The minister explained that the doses are part of the COVAX agreement, in cooperation with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, within the framework of the state’s plan to diversify and expand the provision of vaccines to citizens.

Dr. Khaled Mujahid, assistant minister of health and population and the official spokesman for the ministry, said that this shipment was received in two batches, one of which arrived last Friday and the other yesterday at Cairo International Airport. He stressed that the Egyptian state was sparing no effort in providing free vaccines to citizens.

Mujahid explained that the shipment would be subject to analysis in the laboratories of the Egyptian Drug Authority and that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be distributed to the 781 vaccination centers throughout the governorates of the country.

He said that the AstraZeneca vaccine has proven to be effective in preventing infection with coronavirus virus disease (COVID-19) and explained that it is to be taken in two doses 28 days apart.

Mujahid said that centers designated to vaccinate people who wish to travel are equipped with all the requirements for data registration and the issuance of documented vaccine certificates with QR codes.

In recent days, Egypt has witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of people infected with the virus, as part of what officials consider the fourth wave. The Ministry of Health recorded on Monday 653 new cases and 19 deaths. 

Mujahid stated that the total number of registered infected people in Egypt is 296,929, with 16,970 deaths.

Zayed announced in previous statements that Egypt has manufactured 5 million vaccine doses within the country and has so far vaccinated 13 million people. 

She added that the ministry aims to vaccinate from 7 to 8 million citizens per month and hopes to have 40 million people vaccinated by December. 

An additional production line is being prepared at a factory in Giza with production starting Nov. 1. The production capacity will be 300,000 doses per day. 

Egypt owns two vaccine manufacturing factories, with one focusing on national needs and the other on production and distribution to Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.


Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port

Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port
Updated 20 September 2021

Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port

Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port
  • Last year, several rebel groups signed a landmark accord with the transitional government
  • Beja tribes people in eastern Sudan have criticised the fragile peace deal saying it does not represent them

KHARTOUM: Dozens of demonstrators in Sudan have blocked key roads and a crucial port in the country’s east in protest at parts of a peace deal with rebel groups, a protest leader said Monday.
Last year, several rebel groups signed a landmark accord with the transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of long-time autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
“We’ve blocked the (main) road connecting Port Sudan with the rest of the country since Friday as well as the main container and oil export terminals,” protest leader Sayed Abuamnah told AFP.
Beja tribes people in eastern Sudan have criticized the fragile peace deal saying it does not represent them.
Port Sudan in the Red Sea state is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its crippled economy dependent on exports.
The protests come as Sudan grapples with deep economic woes left in the wake of Bashir’s ouster, whose three-decade iron-fisted rule was marked by prolonged US sanctions.
“The closure will not be lifted until our demands to nullify the parts about east Sudan in the peace deal are met,” Abuamnah added.
Aboud Sherbini, a port worker, confirmed the “port has completely shut down and the flow of imports and exports has stopped.”
Other witnesses from the restive eastern Qedaref state also told AFP that roads were blocked.
Abuamnah said protesters have called for the government’s dissolution and the formation of a non-partisan administration to lead the transition.
Similar protests in and around the port broke out last year over the October 2020 peace deal.
The government has yet to make a comment on the latest closure.


Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show
Updated 20 September 2021

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show
  • The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people 12 and over

FRANKFURT: Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday said clinical trial results showed their coronavirus vaccine was “safe, well tolerated” and produced a “robust” immune response in children aged five to 11, adding that they would seek regulatory approval shortly.
The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people 12 and over, the companies said in a statement. They said they would submit their data to regulatory bodies in the European Union, the United States and around the world “as soon as possible.”


Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
Updated 20 September 2021

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
  • Lebanon’s worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power a day

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers convened Monday to confirm the country’s new government following a power outage and a broken generator that briefly delayed the start of the parliament session.
It took some 40 minutes before electricity came back on. The incident, which underscored the deep crisis roiling the small Mediterranean country amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, was derided on social media.
Lebanese have been suffering electricity blackouts and severe shortages in fuel, diesel and medicine for months, threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and schools. Lines stretching several kilometers (miles) of people waiting to fill up their tanks are a daily occurrence at gas stations across the country.
The economic crisis, unfolding since 2019, has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world in the last 150 years. Within months, it had impoverished more than half of the population and left the national currency in freefall, driving inflation and unemployment to previously unseen levels.
A new government headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was finally formed earlier this month after a 13-month delay, as politicians bickered about government portfolios at a time when the country was sliding deeper into financial chaos and poverty.
The new government is expected to undertake critically needed reforms, as well as manage public anger and tensions resulting from the planned lifting of fuel subsidies by the end of the month. Lebanon’s foreign reserves have been running dangerously low, and the central bank in the import-dependent country has said it was no longer able to support its $6 billion subsidy program.
The government is also expected to oversee a financial audit of the Central Bank and resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package.
Few believe that can be done with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties that the public blames for corruption and mismanagement of Lebanon’s resources.
Lawmakers are to debate the new government’s policy statement before a vote of confidence is held on Monday evening — a vote which Mikati's proposed Cabinet expects to win with the support from majority legislators.
Mikati, one of Lebanon’s richest businessmen who is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time, pledged to get to work immediately to ease the day-to-day suffering of the Lebanese.
“What happened here today with the electricity outage pales in comparison to what the Lebanese people have been suffering for months,” Mikati told lawmakers after power returned and the session got underway.
The session is being held at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.
“What can I say, it’s a farce,” lawmaker Taymour Jumblatt, the son of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, said when asked about the electricity outage.
“It is not a good sign,” said lawmaker Faisal Sayegh. “We need to light up this hall, to say to people that we can light up the country.”


Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
Updated 20 September 2021

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread

DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”