Lebanon News

Siemens offers to help fix power crisis

Caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Germany’s Siemens has openly offered to help fix Lebanon’s long-crippled electricity sector, shortly after reports of an offer made in June resurfaced. “I have instructed my local team to contact [caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil] asap.

The offer I made to the Gov. to help optimize the electrification still stands. The Lebanese people deserve this,” Joe Kaeser, Siemens’ CEO, tweeted Thursday afternoon.

The tweet came a day after Kaeser confirmed that the company had in fact offered to help address Lebanon’s electricity crisis during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Lebanon in June.

In response to a user on Twitter who asked whether Siemens had made such an offer, Kaeser replied, mentioning the company’s Middle East CEO Dietmar Siersdorfer: “Yes, we did. During the visit [with] our [chancellor], I did offer to help improve the whole electricity value chain and have our team to come in and assess what’s best for the people. No response yet from Government. Our door is open! Offer still good. Call Anytime! @Siersdorfer_D.”

Later Wednesday evening, Abi Khalil replied to Kaeser: “We look forward to cooperating with Siemens on needs assessment, and accordingly maybe receiving a formal proposal.”

“I reiterate my invitation to Siemens and all qualified companies to stay tuned to the ministry’s announcements regarding the upcoming [independent power producer] tender [for the planned power plants] Selaata I and Zahrani II,” Abi Khalil continued in another tweet.

The issue of the Siemens offer came to the fore when a recording of Nabatieh MP Yassine Jaber blasting Abi Khalil was leaked and widely circulated by local media Sunday.

In the recording, the lawmaker was reportedly responding to a story published Sept. 17 by local daily Ad-Diyar. The article claimed that during Merkel’s visit, Siemens offered to establish two power plants in Lebanon that would provide the country with 3,000 megawatts of power. The daily said Lebanese officials had not welcomed the proposal.

Abi Khalil later denied Siemens had made a bid, in a tweet directed at Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt. “We no longer know what it is that you want to either follow the rules [with the tendering process] or [make deals] by consensus, as you have been used to. Siemens did not participate in any bids,” Abi Khalil wrote.

Jaber held a news conference Thursday to address the leaked recording and the electricity issue, which he called a “national crisis.”

“I am reaching out to the energy minister and anyone with a solution to this problem. We should put our hands together because Lebanon’s financial situation cannot handle this anymore,” Jaber said. “I do not have a problem with the energy minister. We are searching for a solution, not for a problem.”

He also referenced Kaeser’s initial tweet: “Siemens’ CEO offered help, let’s take this help. There are many offered opportunities let us examine them.”

Jaber said the Treasury can no longer bear the electricity sector’s losses, especially as oil prices rise.

“This year it cost $2 billion, and next year it might increase with the rise of fuel prices,” Jaber said. “We do not get electricity, and we spend $2 billion on it. We are fighting for housing loans and cancer medicines in the Parliament. Can you imagine how much $2 billion would contribute to the situation in Lebanon?”

Regarding the leaked voice note, Jaber said he was only shedding light on an issue that is important to the country, as every person from every party and area suffers from the electricity crisis. He said he did not have anything against the energy minister or his ministry. “I’m an MP representing an area that suffers from constant power cuts and weak electricity supply. It is my job to shed light on important things like the electricity issue,” Jaber said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 28, 2018, on page 2.

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