BEIRUT — As Lebanon’s fuel crisis plunges the country into darkness, Parliament on Friday endorsed a symbolic “position” in favor of quick cabinet formation, the implementation of a ration card for the poor, and loosening restrictions on imports.
The move has no legal value, Wissam Lahham, a constitutional law professor at St. Joseph University, confirmed. “It’s nothing at all. … It’s a political position, nothing legally binding,” he told L’Orient Today.
MP Yassine Jaber (Amal bloc/Nabatieh) styled the position as a set of “guidelines,” while MP Sami Fatfat (Future/Dinnieh) said another session would be required to pass a law regarding import restrictions. The other matters — cabinet formation and the ration card program — are in the hands of executive authorities.
Parliament’s symbolic vote came at the close of a session convened to discuss Banque du Liban’s announcement last week that it would no longer subsidize fuel imports — a move that has thrown Lebanon into further disarray as the electrical grid fails, generators run out of diesel and logistics freeze up due to a dearth of gasoline.
Tempers flared at the contentious session when MP Gebran Bassil (FPM/Batroun) warned that his political party may resign from Parliament if its proposed solutions are not taken into consideration.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (Amal/Zahrani) fired back that Bassil should not issue threats, adding sarcastically that he had already been given extra time to deliver a speech to the MPs.
The Free Patriotic Movement leader and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun decried BDL Gov. Riad Salameh’s fuel decision as “unilateral” and cautioned that Lebanon was “days away from an explosion due to the fuel crisis.” The former energy minister said the country’s current supply of diesel and gasoline would run out in five to six days.
Meanwhile, MP Georges Adwan (LF/Chouf) said, “We should all resign together for all this to be over.”
Berri on Tuesday had called for MPs to meet to take an “appropriate position, measure or decision” regarding a letter from Lebanon’s president calling on the legislature to respond to the long-feared subsidies cut.
On Aug. 11, the central bank announced that it would provide US dollars for fuel imports only at the market rate, instead of at a subsidized rate of LL3,900 to the dollar, which would usher in far higher prices for a population falling into poverty.
After failing to persuade Salameh to reverse his decision, Aoun requested the caretaker cabinet to meet on the matter, but caretaker Premier Hassan Diab refused as the standoff between the central bank head and the president deepened.
The Energy Ministry has yet to announce new retail prices for gasoline; diesel, which is needed for backup electricity generators; and cooking gas. In the meantime, fuel shipments into Lebanon have mostly dried up as long lines ensnare the dwindling number of still-open gas stations. A couple of shipments reportedly preapproved by the central bank have offloaded in recent days.
With Électricité du Liban providing scant power — the state power company even announced a total blackout on Aug. 16 — businesses have been forced to cut back operations or close due to shortages of diesel for generators.