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US rights report: corruption still plagues Lebanon

14 Mar

Penalties present, but seldomly enforced
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 13, 2010

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government is riddled with corruption and while human-rights abuses are not as flagrant as elsewhere in the Arab world, they continue largely unabated, according to the US State Department.

The Lebanon section of the 2009 report on human-rights practices, which was released late Thursday, also noted substandard detention facilities, arbitrary detention, lack of rights for women, refugees and other minorities, privacy infringements and restrictions on freedoms of speech and press as major issues hindering the enjoyment of human rights in the country.

“The government provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the penalties were seldom enforced, and government corruption was a serious problem,” the report said, noting a lack of transparency and public access to government documents or information about the financial assets of public officials. It reiterated reports by local organizations Transparency Lebanon and the Lebanese Transparency Association, which noted systematic clientelism, judicial failures, electoral fraud, and bribery among politicians.

The Lebanese government was unable to exercise total control over its affairs because of impunity and armed presence of Hizbullah, the report said. “It remained difficult to distinguish politically motivated crimes … from simply criminal acts or disputes, as the government did not exercise control over all its territory and investigations of suspicious killings rarely led to prosecutions,” the report added.

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee made little progress over the course of the year, mainly because of the absence of a government for five months. “At year’s end there was no evidence that the committee had begun implementing the existing national action plan calling for legal changes to guide ministries on protecting specific human rights.”

The Lebanese people suffered “limitations” on their right to change their government peacefully, the report said, noting a continuation of politically motivated killings and disappearance of a Lebanese citizen, Joseph Sader, which may also have been politically driven.

The whereabouts of Sader, an MEA official, have remained unknown for over a year.

Conditions in prison and detention centers remained below minimum international standards, with facilities packed to almost twice their capacity. The report said three cases of prisoner-on-prisoner rape occurred in Roumieh prison during the year and quoted an unidentified non-governmental organization as saying 27 prisoners had died “primarily due to authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care.” Arbitrary imprisonment and illegal detention of refugees was also pervasive, with charges against officials responsible for prolonged arrest rarely filed.

 

There was evidence that government officials tortured detainees and forced them to sign forged confessions. The Lebanese government continued to deny the use of torture, though authorities did acknowledge “violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations … where suspects were interrogated without an attorney.” The report added that while security agencies and the Lebanese police force are subject to laws prohibiting bribery and extortion, enforcement of those laws were weak.

Flouting national laws, Lebanese authorities “frequently interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government,” the report said, noting phone tapping and other monitoring by the security services.

Freedom of speech and of the press also came under fire, with the report noting political violence and intimidations lead journalists to practice self-censorship. Most media outlets have political affiliations, sometimes hindering their “ability to operate freely in areas dominated by other political groups and affected the objectivity of their reporting.” A number of journalists also received threats against them and their families for their work, and officials instigated libel and other lawsuits against journalists in an effort to suppress criticism.

Lebanon continued to discriminate against women in a number of issues including personal status and citizenship, and was a transit point and destination for trafficked persons. “The government provided legal assistance to domestic violence victims who could not afford it, but in most cases police ignored complaints submitted by battered or abused women.”

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has published country reports on human rights practices in 194 countries and territories for the last 34 years. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the annual reports provide a fact-base for American diplomatic, economic and strategic policy-making. “These reports are an essential tool … to craft effective human-rights policy, we need good assessments of the situation on the ground in the places we want to make a difference,” she said in the report’s preface.

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Honor killing in Lebanon

12 Mar

This AFP story filed on Friday March 12 describes the latest honor killing in Lebanon. It says honor crimes are rare in Lebanon but a recent report I read said around 88 had occured in a seven year period (I can’t remember where I read that so don’t quote me on that), which is 88 too many. Sadly Lebanon’s penal code grants leniency to such killers, as it does rapists, who are pardoned if they propose to their victim. The good news is that a family violence bill is in the works, which might herald a new era in how Lebanon views perpetrators of gender-based and child abuse.

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man has been arrested in northern Lebanon for killing his sister earlier this week in what authorities described as an honour killing, a security official said on Friday. “The 24-year-old victim was single and apparently had a boyfriend,” the security official told AFP. “(Her brother) admitted shooting her twice in the head to cleanse the family honour.” The woman was only identified by her initials, as was her 28-year-old brother. Her body was discovered on Tuesday on the main road of the village of Hakr al-Daheri, in the northern Akkar region. “This kind of crime is not common in Lebanon but we have a few every year,” the official said. Lebanese law stipulates extenuating circumstances for so-called honour killings, in which male relatives kill female kin they suspect of illicit behaviour with men. In 2007, Lebanon’s top Shiite Muslim cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honour killings as repulsive acts that contradict Islamic law.

Circus leaders sent packing after activist alert

10 Jan

This lion cub faces negligence and mistreatment (Photo courtesy of Animals Lebanon)

Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, January 09, 2010

BEIRUT: For two weeks, a lion cub has sat in a small cage in Beirut with dirty bedding and no natural light, nursing its swollen paws.

 The lion cub was brought to Lebanon with five other lions, three tigers, two snakes and a number of domesticated animals to perform at the Monte Carlo Circus in the Beirut suburb of Dora. But in a rare victory on Friday, the animals’ owner was ordered to leave Lebanon within 24 hours.

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan declared the circus illegal and ordered its immediate closure after animal welfare campaigners alerted his office to the circus’s mistreatment and incorrect paperwork.

“I would have preferred for the animals to be confiscated and the minister indicated that’s what he would have preferred to do, but the legal framework just isn’t there,” Jason Mier, Executive Director of Animals Lebanon told The Daily Star.

Although Hajj Hassan seems keen to advance animal welfare legislation, there are very few such policies in Lebanon. Lebanon and Bahrain are the only Arab states who have not signed up to the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), to which 175 states are a party.

While Lebanon is not a signatory to CITES, it is required to monitor any trade of animals between countries who have ratified the convention. But in this case, border officials failed to notice that the animals were “in a terrible state,” Meir said.

Animals Lebanon was first alerted to their plight after the Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan raised the alarm on December 24, when it contacted the organization to say the animals were stuck at the border and hadn’t been fed or watered for days. The animals spent a total of six days in transit, finally arriving in Lebanon on December 27.

In addition to “serious concerns about paperwork,” Meir and veterinarians have accused Monte Carlo Circus officials of inhumane treatment of the animals. An independent vet appointed by Animals Lebanon to examine the animals wrote in a report addressed to Hajj Hassan that they were visibly neglected, dystrophic and malnourished. Only two tigers and two lions had access to water in their cages, but the quantities were insufficient and “filthy,” said Ali Hemadeh, who is also the Beirut Representative of the Lebanese Veterinary Syndicate.

While the lion cub is receiving medicine for infected paws following a declawing operation, Hemadeh noted that “none of these treatments have been prescribed by a vet, and no vet is currently overseeing this treatment – it is being done by one of the circus employees.”

A second opinion also highlighted serious concerns for the animals, calling the declawing of the lion cub “barbaric.” John Knight, an independent zoo veterinarian and senior veterinary consultant to the Born Free Foundation, described the condition of the cub as “appalling” and suggested its owner “fundamentally lacks an understanding of the management” of such animals.

The family of circus owner Hussein Akef, which has operated circuses for the last 100 years, has in fact been investigated in several countries over concerns for animal welfare. One such investigation in Mozambique led to the family having their animals confiscated in 2007 and re-homed.

At Friday’s meeting with Hajj Hassan, Akef and his Lebanese business partner Suheil Obeid reportedly attempted to resist the minister’s ruling and “tried to use their connections” to have it overturned, Meir said. Attempts to reach both men were unsuccessful.

“This shipment could have been stopped long before ever entering Lebanon, but now is the opportunity for the [Lebanese Agriculture] Ministry to make a strong statement that Lebanon will no longer be used as a hub for smuggled animals,” said a statement on the Animals Lebanon website. Although Lebanon currently allows animals to be used in circus performances, Meir said he hoped the ruling would push Lebanon to ban the practice and pursue serious legislation.

In September, an abandoned lion cub was discovered in a Beirut alleyway. The starving animal, which had been kept illegally, died shortly after. Elephants and chimpanzees have also been smuggled in and out of Lebanon.

The lion cub's paws are infected and painful after a "barbaric" declawing operation (Photo courtesy of Animals Lebanon)

Rampant corruption claims as Lebanon slips down graft ratings

18 Nov

Watchdog suggests growing public awareness has shifted scores
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s corruption ranking for 2009 has slipped 28 points from last year to 130th place, graft monitoring organization Transparency International (TI) said Tuesday. The Berlin-based organization’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index also found Lebanon’s graft rating had fallen half a point to 2.5 out of 10 on a scale where 0 indicated “highly corrupt” and 10 “highly clean.”

The index ranks 180 countries on perceived levels of public sector corruption and corruption among politicians, using assessments and surveys collected by other organizations.

Although 180 countries were also assessed last year, TI’s senior coordinator for measuring corruption Juanita Riano told The Daily Star the index was not meant as “a measurement over time, but rather a snapshot of the current situation” of global corruption.

“At a time when massive stimulus packages, fast-track disbursements of public funds and attempts to secure peace are being implemented around the world, it is essential to identify where corruption blocks good governance and accountability, in order to break its corrosive cycle” said Huguette Labelle, TI Chair.

In the organization’s 2008 index, Lebanon ranked 102nd, 11th out of 20 countries in the Arab world and scored three out of 10. The low scores were thought to be because of the country’s political deadlock, which held back key reforms.

TI said corruption thrived when essential government institutions were weak or non-existent, resulting in insecurity and impunity.

“Corruption also makes normal a seeping loss of trust in the very institutions and nascent governments charged with ensuring survival and stability.”

According to the organization Global Integrity – which tracks international governance and corruption – political meddling and nepotism in Lebanon are “rampant in media, civil service and law enforcement agencies.”

Fighting corruption “requires strong oversight by parliaments, a well-performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society,” Labelle said.

Lebanon’s fall in rank is probably not indicative of increased corruption but of growing public awareness, said Gaelle Kibranian, program director at TI’s Lebanon chapter, the Lebanese Transparency Association.

“What we are linking it to is perceptions, especially given the fact that we had parliamentary elections” in June this year, which despite government regulation, were marked by stories of vote-buying and dubious campaign financing.

“I think it is very timely to have [the corruption index published] just before the ministerial statement, Kibranian said, hoping it would push officials to address corruption in the government’s guiding document.

New Zealand came first in this year’s corruption index, ranking in at 9.4, followed by Denmark at 9.3, and Singapore and Sweden at 9.2. Wallowing at the bottom of the index for a second consecutive year is Somalia, with a score of 1.1.

The index comes just 10 days after the Lebanese Transparency Association published a report indicating that corruption in the country was pervasive at all levels of society and state, taking such forms as embezzlement, vote-buying, patronage, bribery, and clientelism.

Lebanese beach resort discrimination policies uncovered

25 Aug
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: If you’re a migrant domestic worker or dark-skinned tourist, it’s more than likely you’ll run into difficulty trying to enter one of Lebanon’s pool or beach resorts. This is the sad conclusion reached by international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), and confirmed by countless individuals who’ve experienced such racism first hand. 

“Last summer we blind-called resorts to see if there were any restrictions on [the entry or use of facilities by] migrant domestic workers,” Nadim Houry, Senior Researcher at HRW’s Beirut office, told The Daily Star. “We initially called pretending to be a Lebanese family enquiring” about entrance fees and regulations. The results: out of 27 resorts called, 17 said they practiced some form of discrimination against migrants, Houry said. 

Many resorts that do let in migrant workers only do so on if the women are accompanying their employers. Even then, the women are either not allowed to sit in the public area or swim in the pool or sea. Resorts contacted by The Daily Star justified such discrimination by saying they did not wish to upset other guests or that migrants paid less or no entrance fee. As no discrimination law exists in Lebanon, the resorts aren’t doing anything illegal. But their rules conjure up images of Apartheid South Africa or of racial segregation in the United States. “This is clear racism in its most basic element,” Houry said. 

Sylvie, not her real name, is a black Cuban-American who worked for a large international organization in Lebanon. She said she was stunned by the racism she encountered and recalled a story of two black colleagues who were barred entry at a resort because of their color. “If you’re dark-skinned, don’t come to Beirut presuming to find the diversity-friendly cosmopolitanism that the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ moniker seems to imply,” she said. 

Lebanon is home to roughly 200,000 migrant domestic workers, although this figure does not include those who enter the country illegally or Syrian and Egyptian day laborers. Many of these women, who are from such countries as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Nepal, work as live-in “maids” for employers who respect their rights, but a sizeable number experience violations of their human rights. 

Their problems are compounded by the fact they receive no protection under Lebanese labor laws, leaving them with little access to the justice system. As such, many domestic helpers work long hours without a weekly day off, or for employers that physically or psychologically abuse them.  A 2006 survey of 600 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon by American University of Beirut professor Ray Jureidini found that 56 percent worked over 12 hours a day and 34 percent were not allowed regular time off. 

A similar survey by the NGO Caritas Lebanon in 2005 found 90 percent of employers retained the passports and other legal documents of their domestic worker employees, placing limitations on their freedom of movement. Many workers are also denied regular, if any, payment of their salaries. 
Thus while racist restrictions on migrants at Lebanon’s beach resorts is not the most pressing difficulty faced by these women, as Houry admits, it is symbolic of their predicament. “It’s a very telling problem … a manifestation of the deep-seated racism against migrant workers” in Lebanon, he said. 

 Some commentators have pointed out that the discrimination upheld by some Lebanese according to their perceived views of a person’s socio-economic background. “I think it is different when the women domestic workers … go into these facilities as friends of Lebanese people, [as] opposed to on their own or as workers with a family,” said Zoe Ozveren on a Facebook group set up to support migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. “I personally have been called an Ethiopian girl because of my skin color and treated rudely by a few people, but as soon as they see me with my Lebanese or American friends, the attitude is completely different.” 

Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, Director of the Lebanese American University’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, agreed. “I bet if the maid was Swedish or Italian there would be no problem letting her in the swimming pool and in restaurants and at the hairdresser’s, etc,” she said. 

To better inform migrant domestic workers of their rights and responsibilities, the Lebanese government recently introduced an information booklet and a standardized contract available in the women’s native languages, as well as English, French and Arabic, that is also signed by the employer. While the contract grants workers the right to a weekly day off, it has its shortcomings: it does not mention the women’s right to enjoy their day off outside of their employer’s home and does not enforce penalties for agencies or employers who breach the contract. And while Lebanon is party to the International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, it has yet to sign the 2003 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 

Eradicating racism in Lebanon will not be achieved overnight, but as Houry noted, it must come to an end if the country wants to attract tourists of all backgrounds. “These discriminatory practices are a stain on Lebanon’s efforts to promote itself and its beaches as a welcoming and tolerant place,” he said, urging the Lebanese government to take measures against racism and to formulate an anti-discrimination law.

Arabs must Compel States into Action

18 Aug

By Dalila Mahdawi

Beirut – A new report released on 22 July 2009 sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has blamed environmental, political, economic and social problems, together with the Middle East’s vulnerability to external occupation or military intervention, for hindering development in the Arab world.

While its conclusion is admittedly nothing novel, the “Arab Human Development Report 2009: Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries” has reinvigorated an important debate on who shoulders responsibility for the Arab world’s development and security, or rather, lack of it. The report, written by more than 100 independent and respected Arab intellectuals, suggests Arab governments have failed in their duty to provide their citizens with the security needed to foster strong economies and states.

Lebanon is a key example of an Arab country where the state is virtually ineffectual. Burgeoning civil society and politicised religious groups, as well as the private sector, have emerged from this vacuum to offer services that would normally be provided by the government.

Lebanon’s Hizbullah is one such example, which explains its enormous popularity. It was, after all, Hizbullah—not the ill-equipped Lebanese Armed Forces—that drove Israel to end its occupation of the South in 2000, and it is Hizbullah, not the Lebanese state, that today provides healthcare, political representation, housing and other social services to its marginalised Shia constituency.

If Arab nations want to curtail the popular support currently afforded the region’s numerous political-Islam and sub-state organisations, they must show that their governments can be relied upon to provide basic services, that state institutions can represent and that the army can protect.

Employment is one especially critical area where Arab governments must act to ensure the security of their people. According to the report, a staggering 60 per cent of the Arab world is under 25 years of age. In the year 2005/6 some 30 per cent of young Arabs were unemployed, compared to a world rate of 14 per cent. Unemployment and economic hardship drives the Arab world’s best brains abroad, and pushes others into informal, insecure jobs or into the clutches of radicalisation. Young Arabs must often settle for jobs for which they are overqualified and badly paid.

One reason for the region’s embarrassing unemployment rate is the stagnation of the Arab economy. According to statistics given in the report, there has been hardly any economic growth in the region since 1980: “World Bank data show that real GDP per capita … grew by a mere 6.4 percent over the entire 24 year period from 1980 to 2004”, a woeful figure that doesn’t even correspond to 0.5 per cent annually.

Arab states must engage with such growing sectors as information technology, Islamic banking and responsible tourism to identify job creation opportunities if they wish to secure sustainable growth and provide economic opportunities to their citizens. The richer oil-producing Arab nations could further support the regional economy by investing in Arab stock markets, cultural projects or other long-term endeavours closer to home. With the UN estimating Arab countries will “need about 51 million new jobs by 2020”, no time can be lost in implementing such measures.

While the contributions of Arab non-governmental groups toward reform must be commended and even strengthened, reform is a responsibility that must be taken up primarily by the state. Non-governmental organisations have laid the groundwork for the region’s fight against gender discrimination, climate change, and political and judicial impunity. Arab states must now build upon that foundation.

Not only must the governments of the Arab world assume their responsibilities, Arab citizens must hold their leaders to account. In Lebanon, a minute country with a population of around 4.5 million, people are not even ensured reliable supplies of electricity or running water 24 hours a day. Hopefully, the dire facts presented in this UNDP report will spark the necessary outrage of Arab citizens to compel their governments into action. Continuing silence over the region’s shortcomings is tantamount to an endorsement of the status quo.

Ultimately, however, the security of Arabs depends on lasting Middle East peace. So long as the livelihoods of millions of Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Yemenis and others are threatened by occupation or conflict, political, economic and social reform will be of little immediate significance to Arabs.

* Dalila Mahdawi is a journalist at The Daily Star, Lebanon’s only English-language daily newspaper. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Lebanon losing battle to keep the lights on

8 Dec

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEIRUT, Dec 8 (Reuters) – A candle flickering in her darkened home, Fouada Hawi rails against the daily 10-hour power cuts that Lebanon’s ailing electricity utility inflicts on her.

 “It’s unbearable,” said the headscarved mother. “No one has money to buy fuel for generators, so you have to live by candle light. You have to put up with everything in this country, you work and you are patient, but nothing changes.”

Many developing countries have power problems, but Lebanon’s go beyond mere technical issues, a World Bank report issued this year suggests, pointing to corruption and vested interests.

It says the electricity sector’s woes are typical of countries where “there are multiple beneficiaries of the dysfunctional status quo … ranging from corruption in payments flows or procurement, to buying of voters through free electricity, to profiteering from energy shortages”.

Hawi, 33, lives with her husband and child in Ouzai, just south of Beirut — where luckier residents have still had to endure three hours without power a day for the last two years.

Anger over the blackouts turned violent in January when army troops shot dead eight protesters in the mainly Shi’ite southern suburbs, fuelling wider political turmoil.

Tensions have calmed since rival factions reached a deal on a national unity government in May, but the chronic malaise gripping the electricity sector is not so readily cured.

Nor can the drain on the public purse be easily plugged. Subsidies cost the equivalent of 4 percent of Lebanon’s Gross Domestic Product last year, the World Bank estimates.

Lebanon built two gas-fired power plants in 1996, but they still lack a gas supply and run on expensive diesel instead. Older turbines use the costliest grade of fuel oil.

State-owned Electricity du Liban (EdL) can meet only two-thirds of peak demand. More than a third of the power it does generate gets lost in distribution or is not paid for.

How to overhaul a utility whose 2,000 staff have an average age of 58, whose tariffs were fixed in 1996 when oil cost $21 a barrel, and whose last audited accounts were issued in 2004?

 TOO MANY COOKS?

Lebanon’s fiendishly intricate sectarian power-sharing system makes consensus on reform elusive, and dozens of reports proposing solutions for the problems are gathering dust.

The latest energy minister to try his hand acknowledges the scale of the task.

“Today we are able to generate about 1,500 megawatts and our peak requirement is estimated at 2,200, so we have a deficit of around 700,” Alain Tabourian told Reuters. “That’s why we see a lot of power cuts, especially in summer.”

Back-up generators used by shops, homes and factories hammer in the streets of Beirut during outages — which cost business around $400 million last year, according to the World Bank.

Tangled overhead cables reveal illicit links to unmetered supplies. Public sector consumers like ministries, the army, police and hospitals are all supposed to get billed. Few pay.

Subsidising EdL cost the government $1.2 billion in the first 10 months of 2008, or more than 15 percent of its spending and a fifth of its revenue, Finance Ministry figures show.

The bill for imported fuel surged mainly because world oil prices spiked to nearly $150 a barrel in July before collapsing.

But Lebanon, with a $44.5 billion public debt — among the world’s biggest at 170 percent of GDP — can ill afford such costs, let alone the investments to expand capacity.

Existing power stations are obsolete, poorly maintained or unsuited to the fuel available, Tabourian said.

Initially Syria was to supply natural gas for the two modern combined-cycle gas turbine units, but now has a shortfall itself, so Lebanon turned to Egypt. After successive delays, the Egyptians are promising the first deliveries in January.

“Unfortunately they cut the amount in half compared to what we originally agreed,” Tabourian said. “That means only one of the two turbines in one plant will be able to run on gas.”

 “REAL WORD IS THEFT”

Tabourian put technical losses in the distribution system at about 15 percent, or double those typical of a well-run network.

“Non-technical losses — the real word is theft — have gone up to around 22 percent,” he said, blaming Lebanon’s political upheavals for the reversal of a trend which had curbed these to 17 percent from a crippling 40 percent in 2000-2002.

The ministry is considering how to restructure the outdated electricity tariff, without too much pain for poorer consumers — although even they might pay up if EdL’s service improved.

“Let them ration or raise the bills a bit, but give us electricity,” pleaded Hawi at her home in Ouzai. “People can’t live a normal life. School-kids can’t study by candle light.”

Albert Khoury, deputy general manager of a private power distribution concession in Aley, east of Beirut, blamed EdL’s management. “Every area in Lebanon would pay if we had clean power and reliable billing and collection.”

 Computerisation at EdL is incomplete. Anyone trying to do business at its Beirut headquarters must navigate a maze of desks where clerks shuffle records in dusty ledgers and files.

 EdL’s chairman, Kamal Hayek, declined to be interviewed.

Tabourian said the widely discussed option of privatising EdL was out of reach for now: “First it needs to be corporatised so it can operate on commercial rules, so it can hire and fire.”

He saw private-public partnerships as the way to combine the public sector’s ability to raise affordable financing with the private sector’s skills at building and operating projects.

Tabourian aims to put in place a strategic power plan for the next 25 years — a tall order since the government will only last until a parliamentary election next May or June.

Such a master plan would set policy on the future energy mix — coal, natural gas, liquefied natural gas and renewables all have their advocates alongside the fuel oil and diesel now used.

But long-term investments need consistent political support.

“Unfortunately what we have seen is successive governments often re-examining issues and taking a different tack,” said Simon Stolp, a World Bank expert. “What they really need to do is set in train a course of action and pursue it to the end.”

Khoury champions a bigger private sector role and more emphasis on renewables like solar and wind power.

“I hope the government will listen to us,” he said. “But they need to listen more to the people who get six-hour power cuts a day, who cannot warm their water or light their homes.

“Unfortunately because of the lack of good services in Lebanon, we tend to consider that 24-hour electricity is a luxury. This is quite sad. It is our right.” (Editing by Sara Ledwith)