Privatization of public utilities in Lebanon: An indicator of the failure of the state and of the political class

Tue, 08/11/2015

Under the guise of reform and the salvation of the Lebanese economy, the process of privatization slowly gains ground in Lebanon unrepentantly, and with the blessing of the World Bank and the IMF. This is taking place in the context of failures of past policies, governmental practices, and the confessional system in resolving the different political, economic and social problems ailing the country. As such, politicians keep busy devising short term and ineffectual solutions to the daily problems that citizens are facing, solutions that mainly entail moving forward with privatization, strengthened with the recommendation of international institutions. These institutions keep insisting that privatization is a magic solution to all of Lebanon’s endemic problems such as garbage collection, electrical services, etc…

A glance at the problems which have exploded during the past few weeks may suggest that these have cropped suddenly, whereas they are really the result of endemic, inefficient policies and practices. For the sake of illustration, we will briefly go on the following two cases.

1- Garbage collection: the matter bursted and was exacerbated by the closure of the Naameh rubbish dump and the end of the contract with Sukleen which was entrusted with the responsibility of gathering and dumping rubbish from Beirut and from some 225 towns and localities in Mount Lebanon. This matter reached a dead end in the absence of a national strategy and plan to address refuse collection and treatment and given popular mobilization against current practices and the political bickering surrounding it.
2- Electricity supply: It is a well known fact that EDL continues to suffer from endemic financial deficit which, according to the 2015 budget, reached 2 billion dollars. All attempts to resolve this problem have so far failed whilst previous governmental approaches have let the crisis fester whilst allowing the unfettered proliferation of private electrical generators that further exploit citizens. More recently, the state has approved privatization, starting with Zahleh and possibly in Byblos.

The process of privatization in Lebanon started with the nineties and has touched many sectors particularly: the reconstruction of downtown Beirut which was contracted to Solidere, garbage collection in greater Beirut contracted to Sukleen, privatization of postal services through Liban Post, privatization of cellular phone services to two companies, more recently the privatization of the development of Tripoli through the creation of the Special Economic Zone, and finally current plans for privatizing garbage collection.

To conclude, one cannot help but note that the continuous push towards privatization is not limited to new, emerging or problematic sectors but it is also spreading to others that face no problems. Indeed, the head of the Democratic Gathering, MP Walid Jumblatt has recently also called for the privatization of the Beirut International Airport, thus maybe paving the way for a new wave of privatization.