August 01, 2012

In the two decades since Lebanon’s civil war ended the country’s electricity has proven such an enduring problem it now appears to be as intractable as most difficult international conflicts. It seems as likely to be solved as the Palestinian problem, or the conflict over Kashmir.

But it’s not a problem the Lebanese can avoid facing head-on: with every new crisis, every new power cut, or simply every time they face an extortionate bill for their generator power.

Electricity is not a luxury; it’s an essential commodity and its failure extends deep into our lives.

The real kicker to this, of course, is that those extortionate bills could not be possible without the collusion of the political class.

And this is why the problem has seen no sincere action to resolve it by those in charge. Instead they have kept it floating just above the point of total collapse, while benefitting from its constant malfunctions.

In fact, most politicians and officials who are not directly involved in the crisis spend much of their time discussing the problem, its causes and its possible solutions. This is with the exception of those who could actually do something about it.

Statements from the government are little more than hot air.

Then there is the epitome of failure: Lebanon’s minister of energy and water. Since he and his Free Patriotic Movement colleague took power, Gebran Bassil has set Lebanon back on the path to efficient electricity by about 30 years, and has heightened the corruption, which has now risen to unprecedented levels.

This vital commodity has been treated as a political tool, used to garner electoral support in some areas, or punish others.

This continues in the face of the frustration of the Lebanese, making it clear the government and the ministers involved have thick skin. Governments in any civilized society would have resigned over more minor matters that impact the livelihood of their people.

The reason this government, on the contrary, has survived this and survived it for so long, is thanks to the apathy and the poor civil education of the people and their acceptance of the government’s behavior.

The government knows this. Just as the people know that the government will let them down, the political classes know they do not have to change their behavior to keep their support base.

This was never a government elected for its technical abilities, but for its political expedience. It was to be hoped the current crisis might awaken a sense of conscience. Instead, the government has pushed us back.

The Lebanese must look to themselves when they question why this continues. They have a system which allows them to make their displeasure with the government known. They must use the ballot box and make it clear to their leaders that they deserve more than this.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 01, 2012, on page 7

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