BEIRUT — Najib Mikati's caretaker cabinet on Wednesday approved funds needed to pay for two diesel ships and to cover the cost of maintenance for the country's power plants as a temporary solution for ongoing electricity shortages.
However, cabinet did not approve the total amount needed for a longer-term solution for the energy sector.
The session raised controversy, with some ministers affiliated with Gebran Bassil's Free Patriotic Movement boycotting it altogether as part of a spat over the cabinet's powers amid a presidential vacancy.
Payment for diesel ships approved
Speaking about the decisions during a press conference after the meeting, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that his cabinet approved $62 million, announced at the end of 2022, to pay for two ships that arrived in December carrying 66,000 tons of diesel. The fuel was to be consumed by the Deir Ammar (North Lebanon) and Zahrani (South Lebanon) power plants.
Mikati said that he would ask caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad, who boycotted the meeting, handle negotiations with the importing company to make sure Lebanon does not pay any penalties for the delayed payment.
Mikati also announced that his cabinet approved $54 million to cover the maintenance costs for the Deir Ammar and Zahrani plants.
The cabinet session, which was attended by Électricité du Liban head Kamal Hayek, suspended the approval a $45 million payment for two other ships that also arrived with more than 60,000 tons of grade A and grade B fuel oil in their holds bound for the Jiyyeh (Chouf) and Zouk Mosbeh (Kesrouan) power plants, according to the ministerial decree released following the meeting.
Cabinet also suspended the approval of a $140 million payment for fuel needs during the transition period, which is not expected to exceed a few months. Mikati said that an interministerial committee had been formed to study the approval of these payments.
EDL shut down its power plants last week due to a lack of fuel.
'We are meeting to serve the people'
On the cabinet's agenda were files related to electricity, health, education and other urgent matters. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced Wednesday that his party would only discuss the electricity file, which he described as "the most urgent." Caretaker Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada told L'Orient-Le Jour that Mikati adjourned the session after the electricity file was discussed fully and did not proceed to the other files.
During his press conference, Mikati said another cabinet session would be held soon to discuss the remaining files. He did not however give an exact date for the next meeting.
Despite the FPM no-shows, Wednesday's session was "not for challenging nor for deepening divisions in Lebanese politics," Mikati was quoted as saying in a Grand Serail tweet. "We are meeting to serve the people."
The FPM said in a statement Tuesday that it rejected the session, which it described as "unconstitutional" and "against the National Pact" because the cabinet is serving in only a caretaker capacity and is boycotted by most Christian ministers. However, Tourism Minister Walid Nassar, who is close to FPM, attended the session.
"My presence today is not aimed at pleasing or defying anyone, but to express my official position regarding the session and the decrees that will be published," Nassar said to the press after the cabinet meeting.
Wednesday's session was scheduled amid disagreement between the FPM — Hezbollah's political ally — and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on whether the body can convene during a presidential vacancy.
Public schools teachers demonstrate
This is the second cabinet session to take place after the body entered caretaker status following legislative elections in May 2022. The first session was also boycotted by some ministers close to FPM.
Lebanon is also grappling with a presidential vacancy since Michel Aoun left office on Oct. 31. Following the end of Aoun's term, Parliament agreed that the cabinet will not meet except in cases of emergency.
As the cabinet meeting went on, public school teachers' unions protested in front of the Grand Serail to call for increased salaries and transportation stipends. Their living conditions have deteriorated in recent years alongside the lira, which has lost more than 90 percent of its value since the crisis began in 2019.
BEIRUT — Najib Mikati's caretaker cabinet on Wednesday approved funds needed to pay for two diesel ships and to cover the cost of maintenance for the country's power plants as a temporary solution for ongoing electricity shortages.However, cabinet did not approve the total amount needed for a longer-term solution for the energy sector.The session raised controversy, with some ministers...