It is hard to imagine how ordinary people cope with the relentless power cuts every day. But it is even harder to contemplate a vital government building experiencing three hours of electricity rationing. But such a situation is exactly what taxpayers, bearing invoices and documents, encounter when they flock to the Finance Ministry’s revenue department on Beshara Khoury street only to find out that there is no electricity in the building.
But unlike other governmental premises, this building has no back-up electricity and no private generator; meaning work is brought almost entirely to a halt during the daily power outages.
The building houses offices for key Finance Ministry departments, including both income and real estate taxes.
“Tell the officials we need generators; the power cuts are forcing the ministry to shut down completely,” said a frustrated ministry employee.
After The Daily Star made inquiries with senior Finance Ministry officials, a source close to Minister Mohammad Safadi contacted the newspaper to say that acquiring a generator would be a top priority in the coming few days. “The landlord will not let us install a generator inside the building. We may consider putting the generator in a location close to the building,” the source said.
Another source said the ministry had made arrangement with Electricité du Liban to restrict cuts after working hours but for some reason EDL was unable to abide by the agreement.
He said there was no need for the taxpayers to go personally to the revenues building to pay their dues.
“They [taxpayers] can settle their taxes and dues either through the banks or the offices of LibanPost across the country,” the source said.
A taxpayer, who also did not wish to be identified, said he had recently been asked to wait for two hours when he happened to be at the building to settle an inheritance tax during an outage.
“When the cuts are scheduled from 9-12, or 12-3 it is very problematic. [During the cuts] we have to stop working because most of the transactions are computerized,” another employee explained, when asked about the electricity cuts schedule.
“This usually occurs twice or three times a week,” the employee added.
According to the Energy Ministry, the government allocates close to $2 billion to cover EDL’s deficit each year.
Ironically, the Finance Ministry is responsible for channeling the sums to the loss-making state-owned electricity provider. The Finance Ministry also allocates funds, in the annual public budget, for generators run by most ministries and public administrations,
Businesses and households across Lebanon are forced to subscribe to private generators providers to make up for the severe electricity cuts.
Apart from Beirut, which enjoys 21 hours of electricity each day, the remaining regions endure harsh power cuts that range between 12 and 16 hours each day, depending on the condition of the power plants and the weather.
Energy and Water Minister Gibran Bassil estimated that the private generator providers in Lebanon deprive the treasury of more than $1 billion in revenues each year.
The World Bank said the economy could grow by an additional 1 or 2 percent if the government managed to supply 24 hours of electricity every day.