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French Version

Halting power theft won’t fix EDL - electricity giant crippled by technical problems, fuel prices (Daily Star)

Energy experts say that Electricite du Liban (EDL) will continue to lose money even if all non-technical violations ­ namely theft ­ are removed. “I don’t think the removal of illegal electricity connections will be sufficient to solve the problems of EDL,” said Chafic Abi Said, the former director of studies at EDL.

He added that electricity theft represented nearly 25 percent of the total electricity consumed in Lebanon.

Technical problems meanwhile represent about 15 percent of the total electricity consumed. This means that 40 percent of electricity is not being billed. “The technical problems and the high price of fuel oil still represent a big problem for EDL,” Abi Said said.

Backed by units of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces, EDL technicians plan to remove all illegal electricity connections from the high voltage poles in Beirut and the rest of the country. EDL officials met on Monday with officers from the Lebanese Army to coordinate the steps. The overdue decision to put an end to electricity theft came after heated debate among Cabinet members last week.

EDL is losing LL250 billion from electricity theft annually and another LL200 billion from technical problems, according to officials.

According to an unofficial report, electricity theft in different Lebanese regions ranged between 12 percent to more than 67 percent. Beirut has the lowest electricity theft while the Bekaa and the South have the highest percentage of violations.

Officials say that there are whole neighborhoods that do not pay electricity at all. “People are taking the government for granted. EDL bill collectors are afraid to go to certain areas to remove the illegal connections,” an EDL official said. He added that some of the EDL bill collectors turn a blind eye to some of the violations in return for money.

The losses have drained the resources of the Finance Ministry, which has been buying fuel oil to keep the power generators running.

Abi Said also expressed doubt that the state would keep up the pressure on those who are installing illegal cables on electricity poles. “The moment the Lebanese Army leaves the scene, people will reconnect the wires on the poles. The public does not take the government very seriously,” he added.

Abi Said and other experts called on the authorities to arrest a number of people and throw them in jail to send a clear message to the rest of violators. “We need to set examples for anyone who may consider stealing electricity from EDL,” Abi Said said.

He added that there are no foreseeable solutions for EDL. The government had spent $1.8 billion to build new power plants and rehabilitate the existing ones since 1994. But despite this huge investment, EDL continued to borrow money from the Finance Ministry to buy fuel oil, whose price soared from $18 per barrel in 1995 to $30 in 2002 and 2003.

Abi Said added that the law clearly stipulates that anyone who steals electricity or water will face a prison sentence ranging from three months to two years. “But none of the culprits went to jail. The government’s indifference has encouraged people to totally disregard the law,” he said. EDL has filed a lawsuit against 50,000 violators, but no action was taken against these individuals and companies. Said and energy experts recommended some practical solutions to end the crisis. “The EDL must speed up the installation of a gas pipeline between Syria and Lebanon to supply some of the power plants,” Abi Said added.

Syria was supposed to supply Lebanon with 40 percent of its gas demand in 2004, but due to technical problems, the decision to go ahead with the plan has been further delayed.

Two power plants in the north and south were specially built to run on gas. But the government failed to build a network connecting the two power plants to the rest of the country. “Gas is much cheaper than fuel oil and more environmentally friendly,” Abi Said said.

Experts believe that Lebanon would save 30 percent at least if it switched to gas. They added that if Lebanon connects to the six-nation power grid, which includes Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon, the country will also save a lot of money.
“More importantly, Lebanon will not suffer from random power cuts if we connect to the power grid,” one expert said.

On Monday, five days after the Cabinet asked EDL and the Energy and Water Ministry to refer to the Central Investigation Department and the office of State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum any suspicious files in the power sector, Addoum put together an investigation plan to facilitate inquiries should any files be referred to his office, judicial sources told The Daily Star.

After a meeting between Addoum and Khalil Rahhal, the financial public prosecutor, Rahhal asked for a meeting on Thursday at his office with EDL director-general Kamal Hayek, the sources added, revealing that Addoum plans to carry out an independent investigation if no files are referred.

Beirut 25-08-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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