Cab­i­net sets stage for 2018 gen­eral elec­tions

Min­is­ters send con­tentious elec­tric­ity plan back to Tenders Depart­ment

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nazih Os­seiran

BEIRUT: The Cab­i­net formed Thurs­day an elec­toral com­mit­tee to pre­pare for next year’s par­lia­men­tary vote, as it sent a con­tentious elec­tric­ity plan back to the Tenders Depart­ment. De­tails of the com­mit­tee were not re­leased.

“The Cab­i­net con­firmed its pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion to launch a pub­lic tenders bid [for ad­di­tional power gen­er­at­ing barges] … based on the amended book of terms,” In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Mel­hem Ri­achi said, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence fol­low­ing the meet­ing. “There is also now the added op­tion of se­cur­ing the [re­quired] land from the state, when the nec­es­sary tech­ni­cal con­di­tions are in place based on the as­sess­ment of the en­ergy min­is­ter.”

The Cab­i­net’s de­ci­sion – made dur­ing a ses­sion held at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Baabda and headed by Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun – takes the en­ergy pro­duc­tion plan of Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment-af­fil­i­ated En­ergy and Wa­ter Min­is­ter Ce­sar Abi Khalil back to square one.

The en­ergy plan en­tails rent­ing ad­di­tional power gen­er­at­ing barges, which would be moored off Le­banon’s coast. There are al­ready two such barges – one near Zouk north of Beirut and one south of the cap­i­tal in Jiyyeh.

Although the plan was en­dorsed by Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri, it was al­most im­me­di­ately dis­missed for fail­ing to ad­here to the le­gal re­quire­ments, given that the en­ergy min­is­ter had cir­cum­vented the Tenders Depart­ment.

Abi Khalil’s ini­tial plan was also crit­i­cized by mem­bers of the Cab­i­net for be­ing overly ex­pen­sive. Con­cerns at the time were raised by MP Walid Jum­blatt, along with Le­banese Forces MPs, Speaker Nabih Berri and the Kataeb Party.

Dur­ing a Cab­i­net ses­sion last month, min­is­ters ap­proved Abi Khalil’s plan on the con­di­tion that the book of terms gov­ern­ing the lease of the power gen­er­at­ing boats was amended, with new stip­u­la­tions added. The book then had to be re­turned to the Tenders Depart­ment for review.

The Cab­i­net’s de­ci­sion Thurs­day con­firms that the power barges’ lease should be ar­ranged based on new re­quire­ments set out by the re­viewed book of terms, which was agreed upon last month.

“There was a dis­cus­sion … over the de­ci­sion to re­fer it to the Tenders Depart­ment to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion,” Ri­achi said, speak­ing to re­porters af­ter the ses­sion. “There was a re­sponse by the Tenders Depart­ment, which the en­ergy min­is­ter was briefed on, and the de­ci­sion was taken based on that.”

Ri­achi added that the elec­tric­ity

is­sue had not been on the Cab­i­net’s agenda, which in­cluded 34 items.

The Cab­i­net also agreed to es­tab­lish a com­mit­tee to su­per­vise up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The body will be com­posed of five mem­bers and will be headed by Judge Nadim Abed al-Malak.

While speak­ing to re­porters, Ri­achi re­vealed that the mem­bers of the elec­tions com­mit­tee would be rep­re­sen­ta­tives of “civil so­ci­ety and unions.”

The elec­tions are set to take place in spring 2018 – the first time Le­banese vot­ers have been able to go to the polls since 2009.

Elec­tions have been de­layed twice due to se­cu­rity con­cerns, while Par­lia­ment ex­tended its own man­date in June in a “tech­ni­cal ex­ten­sion,” in or­der to give the state time to pre­pare the polls based on a new vot­ing sys­tem.

By-elec­tions are sup­posed to take place be­fore the main con­test, in or­der to fill a va­cant Ma­ronite seat in Kes­rouan and Tripoli’s Alaw­ite and Greek Ortho­dox seats.

The law dic­tates that the by-elec­tions ought to be held if there are more than six months left in Par­lia­ment’s term.

“The in­te­rior min­is­ter is the one that speaks about the by-elec­tions and [is the one] that deals with it,” Ri­achi said when the sub­ject was broached.

Dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view Thurs­day, Min­is­ter of State for Com­bat­ting Cor­rup­tion Ni­co­las Tueni said that there is “no en­thu­si­asm in Cab­i­net for hold­ing the by-elec­tions.”

Later in the day, Hariri met with Le­banese Forces Chief Samir Geagea at his home in Beirut where they dis­cussed re­gional and lo­cal de­vel­op­ments.

De­spite a large num­ber of press­ing is­sues dur­ing the af­ter­noon Cab­i­net ses­sion, both Aoun and Hariri made a point to stress the im­por­tance and im­par­tial­ity of the re­cently or­dered mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the events that led to mil­i­tants over­run­ning the north­east­ern bor­der town of Ar­sal in 2014.

“The mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has be­gun into the events of Ar­sal and what fol­lowed [the clashes] does not tar­get any­one and does not touch upon po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, be­cause that is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the civil ju­di­ciary, which will han­dle the sit­u­a­tion if the need so arises in light of the [in­ves­ti­ga­tion’s] re­sults,” Aoun said dur­ing the ses­sion.

Aoun has seem­ingly been work­ing to de­flate ten­sions around the Ar­sal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Last week, Hariri de­fended for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Tam­mam Salam af­ter he came un­der at­tack for his han­dling of the Ar­sal at­tack in 2014 as a re­sult of the an­nounce­ment of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Crit­ics claimed that Salam’s neg­li­gence re­sulted in the mil­i­tants’ rapid over­run­ning of Ar­sal – prompt­ing Hariri to meet with the for­mer premier at his home in Beirut in a show of sup­port.

Dur­ing Thurs­day’s ses­sion, Hariri de­manded that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be kept sep­a­rate from pol­i­tics.

Speak­ing dur­ing the ses­sion, Hariri con­firmed that the Cab­i­net had or­dered the Army of­fen­sive against Daesh (ISIS), adding that he was “proud” of the mil­i­tary’s achieve­ments.

“[Stop] the de­bat­ing and the re­ac­tions,” he said. “The in­ves­ti­ga­tion will shed light on all points re­gard­ing what hap­pened on Aug. 2, 2014.”

Daesh and what was at the time the Al-Qaeda-af­fil­i­ated Nusra Front over­ran the bor­der town of Ar­sal and kid­napped over 30 In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Forces, mu­nic­i­pal po­lice and Army ser­vice­men, hold­ing them hostage.

Sev­eral were re­leased shortly af­ter, and a fur­ther 16 sol­diers and po­lice held by Nusra were re­leased in a pris­oner swap in De­cem­ber 2015, but oth­ers died or were killed dur­ing cap­tiv­ity. The fate of the miss­ing sol­diers was not known un­til last month when the bod­ies of eight were re­cov­ered along with two other sol­diers who were killed in the area.

The re­cov­ery of the bod­ies came as a re­sult of the Army’s suc­cess­ful “Fajr al-Joroud” of­fen­sive against the mil­i­tants along the Le­banese-Syr­ian bor­der. The near 10-day op­er­a­tion re­sulted in the deaths of six sol­diers and dozens of mil­i­tants.

Ri­achi also an­nounced that Cab­i­net would meet for an ex­tra ses­sion Sun­day, set to take place at the Grand Serail and chaired by the prime min­is­ter.

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