Ships or power plants? Who cares? Just make a decision! The country is trying to move forward and make itself competitive while experiencing the biggest real estate – residential and commercial – boom in its history. The result: the private sector is setting a pace with which an imbecilic government cannot keep up. But even more important than the economic and infrastructure needs are those of the Lebanese people. Every time the light goes out is a reminder their government appears not to care one jot, either for their livelihood or their dignity.
The situation is not destined to get better any time soon. It was reported on NOW Lebanon on Saturday that within four to six months, a five-year maintenance project on the Zouk and Jiyyeh power plants will begin. The work, we were told by a member of the Energy Ministry (surely that’s the non-Energy Ministry), would take up to five years and reduce our power output even further.
Things could not be any worse for the so-called most vibrant and exciting country in the region. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report for 2011-2012, Lebanon ranks 141 out of 142 in “quality of electricity supply.” We are behind Angola with only Nepal ranking lower.
This government – although we could be talking about every government since the end of the civil war – has failed in its duty to its people, ignoring or paying scant attention to our electricity and water needs. There is no focus. Politics is primitive, ugly, partisan and sectarian, defined by in-fighting and self-interest. The electricity scandal – let us not mince our words – is a stain of shame on modern Lebanese society.
But five years? Does the ministry, any ministry, or even the government for that matter, know what it will be doing next week, let alone in five years? It is comforting that the state knows how long we will have to get by on less power but has no idea as to when our national malaise will be cured once and for all. The government talks of ships and new power plants but nothing happens, and in 20 years, not one plan to resolve the issue and meet capacity has been seriously adopted. Meanwhile, demand is increasing as new, more modern buildings are being thrown up.
But it is not only the practical limitations that affect our ability to function as a nation. There is also the drain on the soul, on living with the expectation of sudden darkness. Even for those who are lucky enough to have access to a generator, it can take its toll.
And of course Lebanon being Lebanon, there is a grubby side to the culture of neglect. What little revenue streams the state has at its disposal have been depleted even further by theft, while it is an open secret that after two decades of state failure, unscrupulous private suppliers with significant lobbying powers have stepped in to make up the shortfall. Knowing Lebanon as we do, it is a fair bet to assume that these business owners have a vested interest in the state’s inability to do its job.
The energy crisis must be the priority on the government’s agenda. As the summer tourist season approaches, the state must be seen to act. Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a man who by all accounts does not need to feather his nest, must make electricity his number one priority. Private suppliers must be regulated, while a tender must be announced for the complete overhaul of Lebanon’s national grid. Bids should be public and the whole process must enjoy an unprecedented level of transparency. In the meantime, the government must do everything in its power to establish a stop-gap solution. If Lebanon is not destined to limp on for another 20 years, there can be no other way.