At long last, the Lebanese Cabinet has approved a plan to solve the country’s long-standing electricity problems, relying on a typically Lebanese solution. Ministers spent much of the last few weeks sniping at each other, issuing threats and doomsday scenarios, until finally pulling back from the brink and arriving at a compromise in which each faction had its very loud say.

While the end result appears to be a step in the right direction, several observations should be made. The first is that politicians in the Cabinet could have spared the country a considerable amount of anxiety and fiery rhetoric, had they simply come to an agreement long ago on such a costly plan, which starts off with $1.2 billion in funding for the electricity sector.

But with the plan finally gaining approval, it is now the turn of the public – which is paying the bill – to monitor the government’s performance as it implements the plan. Will the guidelines be respected? Will all parts of the country be treated equally, and benefit accordingly?

A second observation involves the mechanism of governance. Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet was wrestling with an infrastructure-related issue that ended up requiring intensive efforts by a number of key players. The Free Patriotic Movement was of course the main backer of the plan, but the days of negotiations required the input and mediation of the ministers of health, on behalf of the Amal Movement, and administrative reform, on behalf of Hezbollah. Ministers from the Progressive Socialist Party, and PSP leader Walid Jumblatt, were also heavily involved in the process.

The power-plan saga ended up draining the efforts of several ministers who handle portfolios no less important than energy and water. The health, public works and bureaucratic reform portfolios are just as critical to the efficient functioning of the state, but unfortunately, the people handling those portfolios were pressed into emergency duty to put out the “electricity fire.”

The lesson: If a given party has a bloc of ministers that is big enough to cause paralysis by boycotting Cabinet meetings, this party stands a good chance of getting what it wants. If this bloc lacks such a commanding presence, it would appear to be out of luck.

What is truly needed is a change in governance, to move from a situation of a government that serves the interests of its members, to one that serves the needs of the people. While Wednesday’s endorsement of the electricity plan is a positive step, the path to round-the-clock electricity will only be smooth if the mechanisms of accountability and monitoring work effectively.

However, there is scant evidence that the same type of governance by brinksmanship will continue smoothly, under a Cabinet that appears to contain the seeds of its own collapse when it faces every “major” decision.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 08, 2011, on page 7.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::