COUNCIL OF MINISTERS CONVENES AT BAABDA PALACE UNDER CHAIRMANSHIP OF PRESIDENT AOUN, APPROVES PASSPORT RENEWAL FOR VOTING AND PRODUCTION OF ELECTRICITY WITH SOLAR ENERGY

The Cabinet convened, today at the Presidential Palace, in a session headed by President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun and attended by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and ministers.

In the session, the Cabinet approved the proposal of the Energy Minister to grant licenses to build electricity production plants on solar energy, and a draft decree aimed at renewing expired passports for participation in the parliamentary elections only, in addition to the loan agreement with the World Bank to implement the emergency response project to secure wheat supplies at a value of 150 million US Dollars.

At the beginning, the President said that Lebanon is two days away from the parliamentary elections at home, after the elections are completed in the countries of expansion. After the term of the current parliament expires, the Cabinet becomes caretaker, which requires speeding up the completion of a number of outstanding and necessary issues during today’s session, and the last session next week.

President Aoun called for the approval of many necessary projects, to be implemented by the Cabinet that will be formed after the elections.

Moreover, the President spoke about the investigation of the Beirut Port, and pointed out that the stalemate in this investigation unjustly caused a number of detainees whose conditions cannot be decided, and some of them may be innocent. Accordingly, the investigation must be completed quickly and the necessary measures taken.

For his side, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said: “First of all, I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Minister for his follow-up with the Interior Minister regarding the elections for the Lebanese in diaspora. This process occurred as it should without any impurities, even though it was complex and required a great effort.

“The number of voters was relatively large compared to the number of those who registered to vote, but we had hoped that the number of people who registered to vote would have been greater. Three days till the general elections at Lebanon, we hope that it will also take place in the fullest manner, with integrity, transparency and freedom. On this occasion, I reiterate the call for everyone to participate in the polls and to carry out the patriotic duty, because it is not possible to return to criticism if we failed to play our role as voters” Premier Mikati added.

The session was preceded by a meeting between the President and Prime Minister, during which topics on the agenda were discussed.

Statement:

After the session, Information Minister Ziad Makari read the Cabinet statement:

“The Cabinet convened under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic and in the presence of the Prime Minister and Ministers.

At the beginning, the President said that Lebanon is two days away from the parliamentary elections at home, after the elections are completed in the countries of expansion. After the term of the current parliament expires, the Cabinet becomes caretaker, which requires speeding up the completion of a number of outstanding and necessary issues during today’s session, and the last session next week.

President Aoun called for the approval of many necessary projects, to be implemented by the Cabinet that will be formed after the elections.

Moreover, the President spoke about the investigation of the Beirut Port, and pointed out that the stalemate in this investigation unjustly caused a number of detainees whose conditions cannot be decided, and some of them may be innocent. Accordingly, the investigation must be completed quickly and the necessary measures taken.

The President said “As I said previously, if the issue is intractable due to the obstruction of the work of the judicial investigator, there must be diligence to remove the intractability in this issue”.

In addition, President Aoun tackled the issue of the displaced Syrians and said: “There is talk from time to time about the “integration” of these displaced persons into the societies to which they were displaced. This issue is very dangerous, and we hear it from time to time. Lebanon absolutely rejects the issue of integration, and affirms its firm position regarding the return of the displaced Syrians to the safe areas in their country, as there is no longer any justification for them to remain in Lebanon”.

Concerning elections, President Aoun asked the ministers of justice, defense and interior to stress the need to seize the briber and the one who is bribed within the framework of the electoral process, and assign the concerned agencies in the military and security forces to assist in this matter, especially after information about the illegal disbursement of funds.

Finally, President Aoun asked the Ministers of Defense and Interior to take the necessary measures to control the security situation in and around polling stations, to prevent any riots that would disrupt the atmosphere of the electoral process.

The President pointed out that the safety of polling stations is essential to facilitate holding elections.

For his side, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said: “First of all, I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Minister for his follow-up with the Interior Minister regarding the elections for the Lebanese in diaspora. This process occurred as it should without any impurities, even though it was complex and required a great effort.

“The number of voters was relatively large compared to the number of those who registered to vote, but we had hoped that the number of people who registered to vote would have been greater. Three days till the general elections at Lebanon, we hope that it will also take place in the fullest manner, with integrity, transparency and freedom. On this occasion, I reiterate the call for everyone to participate in the polls and to carry out the patriotic duty, because it is not possible to return to criticism if we failed to play our role as voters” Premier Mikati added.

“We noticed in the last period a tendency to create a negative atmosphere among the people by saying that the elections will not take place, and that there is no agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and today we began to hear that the next cabinet will be full of files that were hidden until after the elections” the Prime Minister continued.

“What we are doing in the government is the natural role of managing state affairs, with all of us aware of the extent of the difficulties facing us, and the general economic situation. We do not want to burden the citizen with any additional burdens, and at the same time we want to continue running public utilities as we should. In this context, we also hope to speed up the assignment of a new prime minister and the formation of a new government as soon as possible” PM Mikati indicated.

“There is talk that the price of cash will fall flat after the elections, and this is incorrect. The possibilities for treatment are available and the money market will be relatively stable in the next stage. Our government has done a productive work and implemented its ministerial policy statement, which is a consensus in every sense of the word in order to save the country from what it has reached, and therefore our conscience is clear and, God willing, things will remain in order and elections will be held, followed by the constitutional steps required to nominate a new prime minister and easily form a new government. So let’s not waste more opportunities on our homeland after we reached the red line on all levels and it became difficult to bet on time, for not completing what is required of us” the Prime Minister concluded.

Before tackling agenda topics, the Council of Ministers condemned the crime committed by the Israeli enemy in assassinating Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and offered condolences to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the martyr’s family, and the Arab media family in general and the Palestinians in particular.

After that, the Council of Ministers studied the agenda, and approved the important items:

– Approving draft terms of reference for the special contract for the launch of the postal services outsourcing bid and its related documents.

– Approving the offer of the Ministry of Energy and Water to grant licenses to build electricity production plants on solar energy, and His Excellency the Minister of Energy will explain this issue.

-Adopting a draft decree aimed at renewing expired passports to participate in the parliamentary elections only.

Off Agenda:

– Approving the loan agreement with the World Bank to implement the emergency response project to secure wheat supplies at a value of 150 million dollars, and His Excellency the Minister of Economy will answer questions related to this matter.

Questions & Answers:

Then Minister Makari answered reporters’ questions, where he clarified that “The renewal of passports, as approved by the Council of Ministers, will take place in General Security centers, before the elections and not on elections day. A statement will be issued in this regard”.

In response to another question about what basis the money market will remain stable, after the elections, amid talk of stopping work according to the platform at the end of the month, the information Minister said “This issue has not been discussed, and when the prime minister talks about a specific matter, he has data on this matter”.

About the Lebanese University file, Minister Makari said that “Unfortunately, it was not raised in this session, knowing that it is raised in every session”.

Moreover, the Information Minister pointed out that next week there will be a big session, because it is the last session of the current Cabinet.

Minister Makari concluded “Concerning parliamentary elections, we have signed a code of conduct with the disabled and the media. In this context, I hope to stop using the terminology of disability as insults that affect their dignity. This is required of candidates, voters and the media alike”.

Minister Salam:

Then, Economy Minister Amin Salam said:

“In commitment to our national duty and our promise as a government to preserve the livelihood of the citizen, specifically in the issues of bread and wheat, I authorized the Ministry of Economy and Trade about two sessions ago, to start urgent and quick negotiations with the World Bank on a soft loan amounting to 150 million dollars, with the aim of Lebanon’s support to maintain wheat in the country and maintain the stability of the price of a bundle of bread.

These negotiations took place successfully, and the World Bank informs us that it is the first loan issued so quickly in this particular issue, especially after the Ukrainian-Russian crisis and its repercussions and great danger on the issue of wheat in Lebanon, which imports between 80 and 90% of it from Russia.

The importance of this loan lies in the fact that it constitutes a social safety net, because it affects the issue of bread and wheat for a country facing economic difficulties, and it is not an ordinary loan.

The aim of the loan is to secure the wheat material, maintain the price of a bundle of bread, and rationalize the sector completely to improve the management of wheat import and rationalize it at this difficult stage, to ensure that after the end of the loan, the classes most in need of this material are available at prices subsidized by the state (and will be attached with loan).

With the United Nations declaring a state of poverty in Lebanon that affects about 80% of the people, which means that this issue is necessary and urgent, and we are pleased with the approval of the Council of Ministers for the loan. I have been authorized to sign the agreement and send it to Parliament. We hope that the new parliament will immediately take the initiative to review andapprove the draft law because it is a social and humanitarian issue”.

Minister Fayyad:

Afterwards, Minister Fayyad made the following statement:

“It was a fruitful session for the Council of Ministers, as it was agreed to issue licenses to the 11 companies that won the competitions that took place in the past years to build solar energy production plants.

We issued, through the approval of the Council of Ministers, 11 licenses for these companies, provided that each company builds a solar power plant with a capacity of 15 megawatts, and that these companies have a period of one year to search and find the necessary financing methods.

This is an achievement for this government, according to the renewable energy path, which is part of the plan to advance the energy sector. In the previous period, we obtained the extension of licenses for companies that won licenses for production through wind energy in the Akkar region. Therefore, we devoted attention and work to renewable energy projects, and at the same time, we issued decrees that were referred to Parliament to issue the necessary laws on distributed renewable energy, which is very important as it allows those who are interested to invest in solar energy production plants up to 10 megawatts, build stations in any region of Lebanon and use the Electricity of Lebanon network to transfer this production to the consumer or the buyer.

Today, the concerned ministers, in addition to the Premier, signed the Energy Conservation Bill, to be referred to His Excellency the President. It is part of the work carried out by this government. In this short period, we have achieved important results related to renewable energy. This gives a positive sign to the international community that we have begun reform in the energy sector, by relying on clean energy. I mention that the cost of solar energy that will be sold by these 11 companies is 5.7 cents per kilowatt in the Bekaa region, and 6.3 cents in all regions outside the Bekaa. And so on. You notice the difference between the cost of solar energy and the cost of fossil energy, which we have between 10 and 15 cents, without taking into account the cost of transmission, distribution and waste, which is high”.

Questions & Answers:

In response to a question about the lack of electricity so far, despite all these achievements, Minister Fayyad said “It is true, they are preliminary and structural achievements, which are necessary. It does not prevent us from having short-term solutions, which we must do. It is based on the extraction of energy from Jordan, the contracts are signed and ready, and they only need financing from the World Bank, with the approval of the US administration that there will be no negative repercussions as a result of Caesar’s law. As for the importation of Egyptian gas, we have finished the work, and we must reach the final version of the gas transport and exchange contracts with Syria. In this context, I will have a visit on Sunday to Syria to attend with Minister Al-Zamil, a conference on renewable energy, and on the side-lines of it we will have a long session to discuss the agreement to lease gas and replace it. We still have the issue of financing by the World Bank and the positive signal from the US administration regarding the political feasibility”.

“We hope to reach that, and we will see after the parliamentary elections, if the matter will be easier” Minister Fayyad added.

In response to a question, the Energy Minister explained that “An official at the Lebanese Institute for Energy Efficiency came with us as an advisory body we rely on in what we do in the field of renewable energy. For reference, this file is being worked on with the participation of major advisory companies from international companies in the field of energy since late 2017, where matters started with a tender according to international standards, to which all interested companies were invited to submit their bids, provided that the necessary plot of land, technology and equipment for constructing the stations, as well as their financial and technical offers, were invited”.

“The companies that offered the lowest financial price were kept, and thus we reached the price I mentioned in the Bekaa region, which is 5.7 cents, and the companies that offered the highest price were excluded. It has to do with the nature of productivity in the Bekaa, which is a plain area. The companies that accepted this price were retained. We got 12 companies, and then negotiations took place with them to ensure that they comply with all the conditions we set. There was a company that did not want to abide by for the required guarantee; it was excluded, so the number 11 remained. If the tender was won by these companies, and there is no exclusive order for it. In the future, companies interested in the same thing will have to participate in our tenders. We will see how we will manage these tenders, and according to any regulatory mechanism” Minister Fayyad added.

The Energy Minister also pointed out that “These Lebanese companies have a global partner, in order to verify, in a first stage, that global competencies are available to us, so that we do not enter into projects whose competencies are not proven”.

In response to another question about whether his visit to Syria would provoke the US side, Minister Fayyad replied “On the contrary. I am late now. And the US Ambassador said to me: Every day is prepared, and we must go today before tomorrow”.

“They told us previously that negotiations with the World Bank for financing are going in parallel with the signing of the contract. Now, we have to finish the contract and then enter into the financing negotiations. This is what has been changed recently by the World Bank. From here, there is no provocation rather, we have to go. The Syrian side is a partner in this matter” Minister Fayyad said.

The Energy Minister concluded “We all work with each other, with full transparency. The 11 companies are divided into all Lebanese regions, according to the following figure: 3 in the Bekaa, 3 in the North, and 3 in the south, and 2 in the mountain”.

Source: National News Agency – Lebanon