Hallway windows leading to the office of Lebanon’s prime minister in the Grand Serail in central Beirut are covered with curtains of another kind.
Wood panels, and pieces of reinforced nylon, are what separates the office from the outside world. Moreover, the hard shutters help air conditioning systems maintain indoor air quality and temperatures, especially when Prime Minister Najib Mikati is in his office receiving guests.
The government palace, since the deadly August 4 port explosion, has remained the same. Besides shattered glass, some of the Grand Serail’s institutions were put out of service.
However, some of the destruction was improved on—such as replacing window glass with hardened nylon.
Serail sources speak of a Kuwaiti pledge to repair what was damaged.
According to the same sources, the Council for Development and Reconstruction is expected to undertake the task of coordinating and developing studies in preparation for their execution.
Despite hopes and plans for fixing the damage sustained by the government palace, there remains the problem of electricity, which rarely reaches the Serail.
Power cuts have forced officials at the Serail to ration services that depend on electricity. They now turn off air conditioners in most of the government palace’s offices.
Air conditioning is only turned on in the prime minister’s office, whenever he is present or scheduled for meetings. When Mikati is gone, the officials go back to rationing electricity to a bare minimum.
The absence of the prime minister has become more evident recently, with him limiting his appointments to pre-noon hours only, and to four days a week in order to save energy and fuel.
As for Parliament, the recent power outage that prevented parliamentary committees from convening on Tuesday and before was not the first of its kind.
Most parliamentary sessions recently have suffered from power cuts, including the confidence session for Mikati’s government last year, and the election session for the speaker and his deputy months ago.
These power shortages paint a picture of how the public sector and government institutions in Lebanon are slowly collapsing under the brunt of Electricite du Liban’s inability to secure electricity and the institutions’ budgets failing to cover exchange rate differences.
The financial crisis that hit the country has affected the working mechanisms of the Lebanese state apparatus.
Banque du Liban and the state as a whole failing to recognize the collapse of the Lebanese pound, and their insisting on adopting the old price of 1,500 pounds to the dollar, renders state agencies unable to adapt to the currency’s realistic price.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese pound’s exchange rate crossed the threshold of 34,000 pounds to the dollar.
This has left state institutions unable to purchase supplies from abroad according to the official price.
Electricite du Liban constantly complains that the Central Bank is not complying with its request to convert what it owns in its accounts from pounds to dollars according to the official exchange rate to purchase equipment, spare parts, and fuel.
Consequently, Lebanon must live on fuel from Iraq.
Iraqi fuel only provides three hours of electricity each day, as opposed to the 12 hours daily that Lebanese plants can offer should fuel become more accessible.
A source in the Lebanese Parliament told Asharq Al-Awsat that the cause of the crisis was the lack of communication with the Director General of Electricite du Liban.
When contacting the chief of Electricite du Liban ahead of parliamentary sessions, to secure the parliament’s electricity, it was discovered that they were in the hospital due to a health crisis.
With the fuel needed to run power generators running out, the decision was to postpone the sessions.
According to the source, the inability to secure fuel can be traced back to the depletion of credits, which are still based on the exchange rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar.
Additional credits have been requested from the Ministry of Finance, but they have not yet been secured, the source explained.
“Electricite du Liban can provide between 10 and 12 hours of electricity per day, in the event that the necessary fuel is secured, but we are currently limited to what reaches us from Iraqi fuel, which provides three hours of unstable supply,” a source at the Lebanese Energy Ministry told Asharq Al-Awsat.
As for Baabda Palace, its situation is relatively better, as it is characterized by a special treatment, as does the Ministry of Defense. The two institutions make up for what they lack in power supply by operating their own generators and securing fuel from their flexible and independent budget.
But this does not prevent momentary power outages in the President’s office when he receives his foreign guests. When the power goes out the President usually apologizes with a shy smile, offset by a smile of understanding from the guest who knows, like other foreign officials, the extent of the electricity problem in Lebanon.
“It is an unfortunate situation that the Parliament is forced to postpone the meeting of its committees due to the power outage and the unavailability of diesel fuel to operate the generator in the Parliament,” tweeted lawmaker Faisal al-Sayegh.
Sayegh blamed the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil.
Lebanon’s political class often exchanges blame for the electricity problem.
Those responsible for Lebanon’s power supply have not been able to resolve the electricity crisis since the end of the civil war in the nineties of the last century, despite the very large sums that were spent on this sector.
The failure to fix the public power sector has led to the emergence of a parallel electricity sector that is established on illegal private generators that are treated as a fait accompli.
While President Michel Aoun’s rivals hold his son-in-law, Bassil, responsible for the great waste and lack of achievement, the latter accuses the politicians opposing him of obstructing his mission.
Bassil had directly and indirectly supervised the sector for more than 15 years.
He sometimes blames the sector’s failures on Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, former Premier Saad Hariri and the current prime minister, Mikati.