The Cabinet will continue discussing a controversial plan to develop Lebanon’s power sector this week, amid signs of a possible compromise between Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the Free Patriotic Movement. Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said Sunday that discussions over the past few days had led to “preliminary conclusions that could see a happy ending for the proposal.”
Abu Faour, a member of the Progressive Socialist Party, has made demands similar to Mikati’s, including the introduction of amendments to the proposal submitted by Energy Minister Gibran Bassil, an FPM official, in a bid to boost transparency in the allocation of $1.2 billion to increase Lebanon’s electricity production. While positive signs emerged over the weekend with regard to the FPM’s position on the proposed amendments, a final agreement has not been reached and the next Cabinet meeting will be held on Sept. 7. Though Abu Faour said discussions over the proposal were purely technical, FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan also said Sunday that opposition to the plan was driven by political motives. “This issue of electricity is political rather than technical and has nothing to do with transparency or accountability,” Kanaan said.
The Cabinet was unable during two meetings last week to reach an agreement on the plan. At the root of the dispute is who – the government or the energy minister – should supervise the spending of the money to implement of the plan. Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, a member of the FPM, said Friday he had no objections to the Cabinet having control over spending.
Among the many suggestions to resolve the dispute, Abu Faour outlined several points that were the focus of discussions over the weekend including the recognition of the authority of the government in the implementation of the plan, as well as the formation of a regulatory authority to supervise the electricity sector. But FPM leader Michel Aoun warned Saturday that if the government fails to approve the plan during its coming session, his party could assume “negative positions” to protest the bill’s obstruction. “We are today facing a very important crossroad and next week this government will choose which way to go. We are committed to the implementation of financial, judicial and security reforms … and we will not accept any alternative,” Aoun said.
Aoun also accused the Future Movement of hindering the development of Lebanon’s electricity sector and increasing the number of hours when the power supply is rationed in a bid to coerce the FPM. Members of the March 14 opposition have criticized the plan, saying it would allow Bassil access to $1.2 billion without supervision or accountability.
PSP leader Walid Jumblatt had proposed setting up a technical team to follow the implementation of the electricity plan. Aoun, who has 10 ministers in Mikati’s 30-member government, has threatened to withdraw his ministers if the electricity plan is not endorsed. Mikati has rejected Aoun’s threat to link the fate of the Cabinet to the electricity plan.