SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 27 October 2021, Wednesday |

Cabinet convenes in Baabda under chairmanship of Aoun, approves Supreme Defense Council termination to extend public mobilization till end of year

The Cabinet convened today in a session chaired by President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, and approved the recommendation of the Supreme Defense Council to extend public mobilization until the end of this year, while preserving procedures and measures taken to implement this decision.

The Cabinet also decided to refer the Tleil explosion to the Judicial Council, and commissioned the Finance Minister to borrow 100 million US Dollars for the Electricity of Lebanon, aiming to increase electric supply.

President Aoun stressed the importance that the government gains the confidence of the people and that of the international community, after it had gained Parliament confidence. “This requires serious and quick work to implement the ministerial policy statement according to a program of priorities which stems from the life and livelihood of citizens” President Aoun said.

The President also pointed out that there are several citizen needs, which the government should focus on implementing, including monitoring price controls and completing the financing card.

For his part, Prime Minister, Najib Mikati indicated that “Challenges are great to work to gain people’s trust, and this can only be achieved if we are one united team”.

PM Mikati asserted that the government is working quickly to achieve citizen needs, including the financing card, electricity, fuel and other basic issues which will receive direct attention.

Afterwards, the President informed the Cabinet that, in accordance with Article 52 of the Constitution, and in coordination with PM Mikati, he authorized a committee to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund. The committee is headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, and members are: Finance and Economy Ministers, in addition to two experts representing the Presidency of the Republic.

Minister Kordahi:

After the session, the Information Minister read the following statement:

“The Cabinet convened, after gaining confidence, in its first session chaired by President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, and attended by Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and ministers.

At the beginning, the President congratulated the Cabinet on gaining Parliament confidence, hoping that it would gain citizen –confidence, as well as confidence of the international community.

President Aoun also stated that there are many needs for citizens, which the government must focus on implementing. These needs include monitoring prices and completing the financing card.

Afterwards, Prime Minister Mikati thanked the President for congratulating the government on the confidence received from the Parliament, and indicated that challenges are great to work to gain people’s trust, and this is achieved if we are one united team since bringing people to their rights is a responsibility which we all bear. The Prime Minister stated that we have to commit to fulfilling the rightful wishes of citizens, especially social security, which is the basis and passes everything else.

PM Mikati added that “We are working quickly to achieve citizen needs, including the financing card, electricity and fuel and other basic issues which the government will direct attention to. PM Mikati also briefed the Cabinet on the results of his visit to Paris and the meeting he had held with French President, Emmanuel Macron, describing the meeting as very good. The Prime Minister revealed that the French President showed remarkable interest in supporting Lebanon, and stressed that France’s readiness to help in more than one sector, considering that the real door to salvation is the beginning of negotiations with the IMF.

In addition, the Prime Minister said that President Macron expressed France’s readiness to assist in electricity and rehabilitate the Port, provided that there is complete transparency in all projects implemented by the government, especially the public procurement law. PM Mikati also spoke about a Lebanese-French joint committee which will be formed soon to follow-up on common issues between both countries.

Then, the Cabinet studied agenda topics and decided to approve the termination of the Supreme Defense Council to extend public mobilization from 1/10/2021 till 31/12/2021, while maintaining all taken measures and procedures.

The most prominent decision taken by the Cabinet are:

-Approving exceptional approvals issued during the caretaker period, with the exception of some which were postponed until the presence of the Head of the Audit Bureau.

-Approving the formation of ministerial committees dealing with various issues, and the abolition of previously formed committees.

-Agreeing to refer the issue of the Tleil fuel tank explosion to the Judicial Council.

-Approving the request of the Communications Ministry to extend work until 21/12/2021, on a temporary basis and exceptionally, with Cabinet decisions related to doubling the speed of the internet and consumption volumes, without additional fees.

-Approving to assign the Finance Minister to borrow 100 million US Dollars from the Central Bank to require EDL to secure an increase in the number of electricity feeding hours.

Finally, the President of the Republic informed the Cabinet, in agreement with the Prime Minister, that he authorized, under Article 52 of the Constitution, a committee to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund. The committee is headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, and members are Finance and Economy Ministers, the Central Bank Governor and two experts representing the Presidency of the Republic”.

Questions & Answers:

Question: Were the two experts appointed to the committee?

Answer: “No, they have not yet been appointed”.

Question: Why did the Cabinet not discuss the issue of the exclusion of judicial investigator Tariq Al-Bitar?

Answer: “The Cabinet discussed the agenda that was previously scheduled and did not discuss any additional topic outside it, except for issues related to electricity”.

Question: There are US sanctions against Hezbollah today. Did you address this issue?

Answer: “No, it was not on the agenda”.

Question: The fuel pricing schedule was released today, and the financing card has not yet been issued.

Answer: “This issue is urgent, and the issue of citizens’ purchasing power has been discussed, and measures will be taken in the future, and committees have been formed to study all these issues”.

Question: There are other urgent matters that have not been discussed, including the issue of the threat of Judge Al-Bitar.

Answer: “This is the government’s first session after gaining confidence. There were previous issues that must be decided upon, and many issues during the period of the caretaker government. And, God willing, other topics will be raised in the upcoming sessions”.

Question: What about the joint transport plan?

Answer: “This issue has been discussed, and will be discussed in depth, as it is basic and necessary and has become the importance of electricity, fuel and medicine. The Minister of Public Works and Transport stressed this matter, because the ability of citizens to purchase fuel and transportation has become very expensive, and it is necessary to establish joint transportation”.

Question: Is the request to attend the Audit Bureau due to doubting some issues?

Answer: “No, the Prime Minister wanted the Head of the Audit Bureau to attend to run matters, and I think this is the rule”.

Question: Will the committee negotiate with the IMF?

Answer: “Yes, it will negotiate”.

Question: What are the tasks of the Lebanese-French joint committee?

Answer: “According to the talks held by the Prime Minister in France with President Macron, the committee will study all matters, including reforms”.

Energy Minister:

Afterwards, Energy Minister, Walid Fayyad addressed the issue of electricity and energy in general:

“Firstly, I am concerned to first feel the responsibility towards the Lebanese citizen, and all the steps I take are aimed at the society and the citizen. As for the second matter, it is related to the energy sectors that enable our economy, that is, electricity, energy and fuels.

Unfortunately, we consume fuels and do not produce them, and we should not strive to achieve big profits in the three energy sectors, but rather to enable the economy with financial sustainability.In this context, we must think about the long-term plan for the energy sector, and this plan is not ready yet, but there is a vision that includes the goals you mentioned.

Today, we have raised the price of fuel and it has become almost unsubsidized, and I took this matter on my own responsibility, but in the name of the Lebanese people, in other words, the available subsidies for fuel were wasted and the black market was effective, and the citizen is less benefit from the support unlike other parties, so we decided to swallow this “poisonous dose”represented in raising subsidies because we cannot afford it, especially since we do not produce fuels, and our goal is to rationalize the use of fuels.What I did was to remove fuel subsidies, with the exception of a small amount of diesel, which is secured for certain sectors such as health, bakeries, communications and others…, under daily monitoring. We have to forget the issue of subsidies on fuel.

And since our goal is the citizen, and after we have deprived him of the issue of fuel, we must work to secure common means of transportation without wastage to secure the movement of people, and this is an issue that will be presented to the Council of Ministers, and in conjunction with the lifting of subsidies, we must also proceed with the issue of the financing card that must be placed on the agenda soon. Pending a decision on this issue, I suggested that we secure some money on the issue of electricity, and I spoke with His Excellency the President, Speaker Berri, Prime Minister Mikati, and the government as a whole, and there was agreement that the issue of fuel is, until now, the cheapest way to produce kilowatt-hours, which is something that is done through the Electricity Corporation.

Thus, allocating an amount of money to increase the hours of electricity feeding through the institution was the best, knowing that our goal is not to continue with mixed fuel and old and dilapidated stations in light of a very high cost in general relative to the price of kilowatt-hours.Accordingly, the $100 million is supposed to suffice the institution over a period of about two months to secure 4 to 5 hours a day, in addition to the four hours it secures thanks to Iraqi oil. That is, the daily feeding hours are supposed to rise to 8 hours, which is related to bringing fuel to the institution to be added to the existing Iraqi fuel quantity, until the date of submitting the plan that is being prepared and which may be ready around October 20”.

Questions & Answers:

Question: And after the two months end?

Answer: We are working all the time, and we have formed technical committees to deal with trade with regard to dealing with Egyptian gas, and there are differences revealed on the gas pipeline with the Syrian side. There is funding that we have to look for from the World Bank, and I consider that funding is the most difficult obstacle”.

Question: Why is the collection not improved, and why do you not raise the cost?

Answer: “Today we are facing a situation that provides electricity to the citizen for only two hours, so how can I increase the cost without increasing the hours of feeding? Electricity must be secured first, and then I raise the cost, and there is no harm in waiting for only two months”.

Question: Subsidies have been paid and the salaries remain the same, and the purchasing power of the citizen is weak, so what is the solution?

Answer: “This is true. But things are interconnected, and attention must be paid to inflation, and we noticed in the ministerial policy statement the issue of adjusting salaries and wages, and it was discussed today in the Council of Ministers, but the decision is still not ready yet, and we must not forget that some blame the issue of the series of ranks and salaries for saying that it is the reason to what we reached today. Therefore, the inflections of such major decisions must be studied”.

Question: Will your plan differ from the plans of the previous energy ministers?

Answer: “All the plans that were developed previously did not take into account the situation we are currently living in, and therefore the current situation should be noted in the new plan, and there was talk, for example, about securing electricity 24 hours a day, which is currently not possible”.

Question: A few months ago, a Russian delegation submitted a proposal to build two oil refineries and two power plants within six months and at no cost to the state.

Answer: “Where will we get the oil from if Lebanon does not produce oil? As for building two laboratories, if they are willing to build for free, I have no objection”.

Question: Where will you get the oil to increase the feeding hours?

Answer: “We will adopt the cheapest possible offer, knowing that the current mixed oil is bad, but it is the best possible, and my goal is to help the citizen and secure better means”.