Cabinet will convene Thursday after days of tension between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement in what is expected to be a “calm” session, a source close to Prime Minister Saad Hariri told The Daily Star.
Ministers will meet at Baabda Palace in a session headed by President Michel Aoun to tackle a 55-item agenda. It includes discussion of a new plan to solve the country’s electricity crisis as well as key military appointments that have divided opinion among politicians.
Cabinet did not convene last week as Hariri was in Brussels for a conference on Syrian refugees.
Energy Minister Nada Boustani will present a new plan for the electricity sector, an item that was added to the agenda at the last minute. It focuses on building new power plants in Batroun’s Selaata and Nabatieh’s Zahrani – a process that can take between 18 and 24 months.
Lebanon’s existing power plants are located in Kesrouan’s Zouk Mikael, Chouf’s Jiyyeh and Sidon district’s Zahrani, which would all be shuttered if the new plan materializes.
The plan also states that while the new power plants are being built, substations will be established across the country to increase the power supply by up to 1 gigawatt, a process that would take three to six months and secure 20 hours of electricity a day.
At the same time, work will be done to upgrade the country’s electricity supply network into a smart grid. The grid that distributes electricity from power plants to end users will have smart meters installed, so the power for an individual subscriber can be turned off if a bill is not paid.
Three major international companies – General Electric, Siemens and Mitsubishi – have expressed interest in the plan, a political source previously told The Daily Star.
The plan, which will be implemented by the companies that win the contracts, will be based on a power purchasing agreement between the companies and the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese government will pay 8 cents per kilowatt-hour to the company that builds the plant.
The government will, in turn, sell electricity at 14 cents to consumers.
Currently, the state pays 16 to 18 cents per kilowatt-hour and sells at 9 cents. This drains the state’s treasury and accounts for up to a third of the annual deficit.
The Central News Agency reported that the Lebanese Forces’ ministers would likely ask Cabinet to postpone discussion on the electricity plan, and that the party wanted more time to read and study it.
During the Cabinet session, ministers are also expected to make a decision on key appointments to the six-member Military Council, which is headed by Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun. The appointments were previously postponed due to a dispute over the nomination of some members.
There are four vacant posts in the Military Council, include the Army’s chief of staff, which is allotted to a Druze officer. The other posts set to be filled are secretary-general of the Higher Defense Council, the inspector-general and a full-time council member.
The Cabinet session comes following the eruption of tensions between the FPM and the Future Movement over the weekend, after FPM head Gebran Bassil targeted Future regarding its stance on Syrian refugee returns and in the battle against corruption.
However, tensions have eased this week.
The government’s work since it was formed on Jan. 31 will be scrutinized by lawmakers during a general assembly session scheduled for next Wednesday, March 27.
MPs will come together for a Q&A session that will pose 13 questions to Cabinet ministers, according to a statement from Speaker Nabih Berri’s office. A copy of the questions seen by The Daily Star shows they touch on pollution, illegal hiring in public institutions, delays in issuing verdicts and road safety.
Lebanon is also bracing for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit as part of a regional tour that first took him to Kuwait and Israel. A presidential source confirmed Pompeo is scheduled to meet with Aoun at 3 p.m. Friday at Baabda Palace.
The source said that the meeting between the two will focus on bilateral ties between the U.S. and Lebanon, U.S. support to the Lebanese Army and the fight against terrorism. “Aoun will also bring up the Syrian refugee issue,” the source said.
The source close to Hariri couldn’t confirm to The Daily Star when the premier’s meeting with Pompeo would be held.
According to a public schedule from the U.S. State Department, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale was set to travel to Lebanon between March 20 and 23.
The Baabda Palace source confirmed that Hale will accompany Pompeo during his trip. Hale was U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 2013 to 2015. He has held several posts in the Middle East.
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