Myths and realities of the electricity sector in Lebanon

(there are two updates at the end of this post)

Al Akhbar ran a front page article responding to Sanyura’s claim (yesterday) that the responsible for the electricity crisis in Lebanon are “those who hang wires on the public network, put pressure on the power reserves that eventually explodes, which cuts the current, and then they take it to the streets, and they say that electricity has been cut, and thus they accuses the government of something they caused”.

As the article note, Sanyura is obviously referring to the inhabitants of Dahyeh, thereby crystallizing a long-time myth shared by most of the Lebanese that do not belong to that category, that ‘the Shi’a a.k.a Hizbullah are not paying electricity’.

How many times have I heard this by people of all creed! Now thanks to Al Akhbar who I am sure is the only newspaper who reacted to these immature and dangerous statements, some basic facts were thrown in the face of the “Lebanese citizen”:

1- Electricity theft is equally happening in all Lebanese regions such as “Akkar, Iklim al Kharoub, the south, West Bekaa, Zghorta, and Bsharreh”. As you can see some of these regions have produced the politicians in power aligned with Sanyura. Dahyeh makes up 31 percent of this theft, due to its population size relative to other region which is proportional to the population in all of these regions. In brief, electricity theft are ad-hoc individual initiatives regardless of creed, confession, political affiliation or what have you of Lebanese differences.

2- The causes of the electricity debacle is not really related to theft of people but to irresponsible policy spanning on years and years of ministerial abuses of prerogatives, irresponsible policies, keeping the infrastructure primitive and obsolete. Since 1991, 11 Billion dollars have been spent on unaccomplished projects. But more to the point to today’s argument, is that it is the very public sector that is stealing from EDL! Ministries, municipalities, and other public institutions have billions of LPs owed to EDL (the state-owned electricity company). How come all these electricity consumers are not paying?

There is much more to be said about this sector but let me tell you an anecdote told to me by a friend who lived in Dahyeh and who just moved recently out of it after his house was erased from the map by Israeli bombers. See this guy (who has been paying electricity ever since he was able to do the math) received an electricity bill one year after the war (or something like that) asking him to pay for months of electricity consumption when his house literally did not exist anymore. The guy paid, thinking that it is better to be on the side of the state/law, whatever that means. Many people in Dahyeh who happen to have lost their homes got these bills. At the end understandably enough, political protest mounted and Sanyura had to back off and ask for the cancellation of these payments.

So my friend goes to the Ministry of Finance to get reimbursed. After waiting for hours going round and round between all the different confessionally allocated functionaries, he ended having a signature to get his money back. Once he got to the cashier, the guy hands him the money minus 10 or 5 % of the original sum he paid on a non-existent house. My friend asks why is this so, and the cashier answers that they take a VAT back on any sum that is paid by the ministry. My friend ended up having to pay a VAT tax on something he should not have paid in the first place. That’s how fucked up this country is.

: Dear reader, so sorry but my friend’s anecdote is actually about phone bills not electricity bills… But you get the idea!

Update 2: Al Manar TV had an article on Michel Moawad’s (son of Minister of “Social Affairs” Nayla Moawad) unpaid electricity bills! The article stated that instead of falsely accusing people, prime minister Fouad Siniora should “look at his left among his ministers”. The article also quotes Michel Moawad having the guts to say that “I know that the cost of electricity is high but I also know that the majority of the people that takes it to the streets to close it down, don’t pay their bills”. According to this article Michel Moawad and his sister did not pay any bills from 1995 till 2001 which amounts to 92 million Lebanese Pounds.


6 Replies to “Myths and realities of the electricity sector in Lebanon”

  1. Did your friend hang around long enough to notice that the VAT tax went into the cashiers pocket?

    p.s hope you are going back for good reasons rather than bad. Bet you won’t miss the weather here and hopefully will be following you back in the Summer, assuming the country is still there!

  2. Its funny how there is no room for negotiation about individuality in Lebanon…however much a ‘Lebanese’ may want to get out of the’imagined community’ that they are framed to be in…there are everyday, often very subtle, efforts, to remind them of the ‘identity’ to which you they belong to… these powerful efforts give them an understanding of what it is to be who they are, the kind of issues they face and how they deal with them with no room for negotiation.

  3. anonymous, good point, but it is an illusion to think that this is just something you see in Lebanon.

    mo good and bad are relative and of ever changing nature, but let’s hope to see you in Leb one day.

  4. But this is what kills me, as someone who moved back here from the States….it’s like they are cribbing from the playbook of American politics–blaming the victim, or calling those who bring up class or race or sectarianisms that divide the country “divisive” or “racist”. It’s really beyond Orwellian. The difference, and the reason to stay, is that change is more likely here than back in America….

  5. oh ok Bechir, I can see your point there. If Siniora & co are thieves, that completely justifies that the opposition is too. Although I don’t recall them being fucked up enough to take it to the streets when they don’t pay..
    I’m also confused : if we have thieves and assholes on both sides, how exactly is it better to have a “national unity” gov ? What will be different ? “Toutes choses égales par ailleurs” how come you prefer the opposition? The sexy religious-armed aspect of it?


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