Lebanon News

Generator owners still defying meter law

A man inspects a fuse box in Beirut's southern suburb. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Some electricity generator owners are still refusing to install consumption meters in protest of the government’s new pricing, a source from the Central Committee of Generator Owners in Lebanon said Thursday, despite the state ramping up efforts to enforce the installation.

The caretaker justice and economy ministers announced Wednesday that authorities would question generator owners who caused blackouts the previous night when they cut services in a protest.

One generator owner was interviewed Thursday by local TV station Al-Jadeed in front of State Security’s regional headquarters in Baabda, saying he had been held there for 24 hours for questioning.

“I was asked to sign a pledge that I will install a meter and comply with the price within a period of three weeks, but I refused,” Abdo Saade, a member of the Central Committee of Generator Owners in Lebanon, said.

Caretaker Economy Minister Raed Khoury confirmed in a televised news conference that generator owners who contributed to the blackouts were being called in by State Security based on orders from the prosecutor.

“The judiciary has all the information on the owners who shut down their generators, and they are being called in and signing pledges to install meters or they will have their generators confiscated.”

Khoury said that since the protest, 21 generator owners suspected of cutting their services have been so far called in by State Security. He added that his ministry already issued 805 violation notices to noncompliant generator owners throughout the month of October.

But the source from the generators’ committee, who asked not to be identified, told The Daily Star that the kilowatt-per-hour rate set by the government would not allow for an adequate profit and “will cause the owners to run out of business.”

He explained that the owners were not necessarily opposed to installing the meters mandated by the government decree that went into force on Oct. 1, but rather the pricing set earlier this month.

“It’s not a challenge to the state – the price is just not suitable,” the source said.

The committee source also explained that the owners who had shut down their generators Tuesday night did not do so to protest the meters or the pricing, but rather “the unfair treatment by security forces for violators.” Tuesday’s outage affected those who, based on the rationing schedule, did not receive electricity from the state during those hours and therefore would have relied on generators.

“If we wanted to protest the decision, we would have shut off our generators when the decision went into effect,” the source said.

The economy minister added at the news conference that Speaker Nabih Berri supported the implementation of the decree, after the two held a meeting at the speaker’s Ain al-Tineh residence. “Speaker Berri supports the ministry’s decision to regulate this sector. He was clear that he does not want to meet and negotiate with the owners and the law must be implemented,” Khoury said.

The Energy Ministry had set the price per kilowatt-hour for October at LL439 ($0.29), saying the price was based on the average price of 20 liters of diesel for the month of October, which was set at LL20,997, and other factors that allegedly took into consideration a reasonable profit for owners.

But a source from the generators’ committee said the committee hired an expert who set the price per kilowatt-hour at LL560.

The ministry had also set a monthly subscription fee for owners to cover their fixed costs, at LL15,000 for a 5-ampere subscription, LL23,000 for 10-amperes and LL30,000 for 15-amperes.

The committee’s expert, however, said the subscription fee should be LL24,000 for each 5-amperes.

The large informal electricity sector exists as a result of the state’s inability to provide 24/7 electricity to its citizens since soon after the end of the 1975-90 Civil War.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 09, 2018, on page 2.

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