From the eye of the storm

On September 30, Ayoub Humayed met with Executive for a political reality check on EDL, during which he answered questions on recent accusations leveled at EDL over corruption and criminal waste of public funds. In doing so, minister Humayed provided Executive with much anticipated answers on the issues of graft and transparency at EDL.

E: EDL has been specifically named in recent allegations of disappeared funds and inefficient management. Can you provide us with a precise figure on the cost of corruption at EDL?

AH: Lebanon is not an exception in the world. Corruption does not only affect developing economies. We should differentiate by looking at the causes of corruption. One cause of corruption is the lack of sustained and continuous supervision and accountability. Another factor is the lack of fair compensation that forces many EDL employees to supplement their salaries. Since I took office EDL and the water authorities have agreed to full transparency in any investigation. I am committed to facilitating the job of the investigative authorities in apprehending those who have abused the trust placed in them. The recent EDL crisis was purely financial. We needed money to buy fuel in the face of a global price hike. However, the debate became muddied by unhelpful side issues. [The minister then detailed how several measures were tried and abandoned until an agreement was reached under which $200 million could be borrowed from the central bank for the purchase of fuel.] In the course of these developments, the debate focused to the corruption and wastefulness that contaminated EDL in the past. Even though the director general of EDL and I have vowed to forward any information on irregularities we uncover, the ministry and EDL have no part in determining the direction of any investigation. Files on all previous activities at EDL have been made and are being investigated.

E: What about the stories that corruption was proven in these files?

AH: This issue does not concern us. A lot of noise has been made saying there is corruption, with people asking where the money went, and where wastefulness occurred. These questions have nothing to do with our present concern of finding money to buy fuel. These questions concern the past.

E: But the situation has become very heated and many people are stressing on the issue of corruption at EDL.

AH: Yes. Why we didn’t switch our power plants from oil to gas? Why are our networks and the tertiary links incomplete? Why can’t we erect power lines that would save millions? These are all legitimate questions, but some might have political reasons for raising these issues. Their motives may not be innocent. Today, these issues are in the hands of the judiciary whose responsibility it is to deal with any past irregularities. I am not in a position to pass judgment.

E: Could we talk about the underlying causes of the problems that are reflected in the situation of EDL. When did the problems start, and what was their effect on the plants, the networks, the grid, and power lines?

AH: We have a general problem in that there is too much ad hoc implementation of works with no proper planning. This is the main reason for irregularities in the public administration. This problem surfaces in every nook and cranny of our administration. You see a network of sewage pipes and no wastewater treatment plant and ask why do we need sewage pipes if we don’t have a treatment plant? I am not condemning nor am I excusing anyone. I am just not in the position to judge.

E: But we don’t want judgments.

AH: There are irregularities. I am not in a position to justify irregularities and mistakes. The issue of why there was an accumulation of factors that brought us to this explosive reality has aspects one cannot fathom with total objectivity and without bias or prejudice.

E: What is being done to remedy the problems at EDL?

AH: There are a lot of aspects to this topic. When EDL is suffering from the inner burnout of its administrative body and when one considers that there are 2,400 employees with an average age of 57 years, one can see that EDL cannot deliver what is required. For that reason, I said before that there are two sides to this issue. On the one side is the need to pump new blood into EDL through the activation of its human resources department. On the other side it is necessary to compensate employees fairly and give them incentives to work professionally.The reinforcement of human resources will mean that the administrative situation will improve, and so will the supervisory situation. It will also save money when compared to procedures currently used at EDL. It would bring great benefits if EDL can implement a system of bill collections, advanced meter readings and even prepaid cards. Completion of the 220 KV network and its connection to a six nation regional network should also provide energy at a lower cost.

E: Why weren’t these steps taken in 1994? What were the obstacles at the time?

AH: I cannot answer that. What I can say is that the funds that were received were destined for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the power plants. These plants were destroyed more than once during the Israeli aggression, and the costs were prohibitive. If there had been no Israeli aggression, a lot of money would have been saved. Before the civil war and the Israeli aggression, EDL was profitable and productive. It is important to evaluate the entire set of circumstances in order to remedy the situation and not look back to the past and bring up corruption and waste. Our focus is the current operations at EDL, which are being handled in a scientific and practical manner to achieve a better future.

E: As many people feel no remorse over tapping into electricity lines or not paying their bills, how are you going to change the perception of EDL and produce an image of transparency?

AH: I already answered that in part. We always say that two matters go hand-in-hand. The first is the right of EDL to collect its dues, either from the citizen or from other administrative and public institutions. Secondly, EDL has to offer the citizen continuous electricity at reasonable rates. I gave directions and issued many statements to EDL staff that stressed an ethical interaction with customers. This very important at a time when the public sees EDL as corrupt and unable to provide a value for money.

E: If today there were no more theft at EDL, would the utility be working normally?

AH: When Italy’s power supply broke down the other day, the reason was traced to a power line between Italy and France that had become neglected. When electricity networks broke down in the US, it was also due to the age of the system. These are giant developed nations. It is easy to pass judgment in Lebanon but we have to be objective. We have to look at the circumstances that EDL is working under and consider the past.Due to severe space restraints in the magazine, Executive had to edit portions of minister Humayed’s sweeping answers. The Executive team made every effort to ascertain that no loss in content occurred as result of the editorial cuts and that the integrity of the answers was preserved to entirety.