By: Naif Maarouf
In the past month, with the new government failing to form, and a full lockdown eminent, the US has decided to declare sanctions on the ex-foreign minister and head of the FPM, Gebran Bassil. The Americans claim that the sanctions on Bassil have been implemented due to his corrupt conduct, although they are a clear strategic move in the the economic and political struggle between the US and Hezbollah.
Many global and Lebanese papers and news outlets focused on the relationship between Hezbollah and Bassil and the implications the sanctions will have on them. We however, would like to shed some light on of the events that created Bassil’s corrupt and controversial image.
Bassil started his public career in 2005, when he ran for the position of FPM representative of his hometown, Batroun. Despite his initially unsuccessful attempts, he became the Minister of Telecommunications in 2008, and continued to fill the position of Energy and Water Minister. He held this post up to 2014, and then became Foreign Minister, a position he held until recently. During this period, his power and influence inside the FPM grew (mainly thanks to the then FPM leader and current president Michel Aoun being his father in-law) and he is currently the FPM leader.
The Turkish steamship
This is probably the most notorious affair. In order to decrease the electricity deficit during the construction of the Deir Ammar project, Bassil rented from Karadeniz steamships to provide electricity to Lebanon. The company was chosen by Bassil against the committee’s recommendation, which claimed they are unreliable and their prices too high. When the first rental agreement ended, Bassil extended the contract by two more years, although it did not produce the agreed upon amounts. The money for the project was paid out of Lebanon’s treasury, and like any other corruption, severely increased the country’s deficit.
The suspension of the Dier Ammar project
The MoEaW under Bassil requested 1.2 billion dollars for the first stages of a multi – year plan to cope with Lebanon’s electricity deficit. This stage included expanding Lebanon’s electricity production by 700 MW, and allowing 24 hours of electricity in most of Lebanon. This stage included renewing existing power plants in Dier Ammar and construction of new ones. Said plan was approved by the parliament and received the support of Nebiah Berri, which allowed quick extraction and diversion of the money to quick actions. Out of the 1.2B, 850 million were allocated for the Dier Ammar projects. The first stage of the project included the renewing processes, a bid which was won by a Danish company for 347 million dollars. Although the company won fairly, Bassil insisted that another company on his behalf would take part in the project. He delayed the execution of this stage for six months, during which he inspected the company twice more and attempted to disqualify it. Thankfully he was unsuccessful. The second stage included a bid for the new power plants, that will supply a total 525 MW. In that bid, won a cooperation between the companies Abinar and Butec, for their bid of 650 million dollars. However, this bid exceeded the budget for the project, a detail that was not taken into consideration during the bid. The companies were not aware of this limitation; however, they were willing to look past the problematic management of the MoEaW and offer a new bid that was 10% lower (which was still higher than the budget). Bassil insisted on lowering their offer by another 100 million dollars, a step that made the companies completely pass on the bid – which result in the cancellation of the deal. After some cuts in the original plan of the power plant (which would cause higher pollution), a new bid was published and the company J&P AVAX (with Bassil’s support) won it. However, they forged the documents in order to appropriate them for the project. Other conflicts between the MoEaW and the company were elicited shortly after. Due to Bassil’s promise that the plants will start their activity in 2015, the plants are expected to begin production in 2021.
In 2015, LBC published an article about Bassil’s real estate assets. The information about these assets came from Anonymous Lebanon. All of the assets were purchased between 2005 and 2015. Although he was born to a middle-class family, only advancing small projects during his work as an engineer, he purchased assets worth over 22 million dollars! His salary over these ten years is approximately 1.25 million dollars. How did he earn another 21 million dollars? No clear explanation was given so far. Citing his formal reaction, Bassil claims he inherited these assets from his father and grandfather. These are baseless claims as all these assets were purchased by Bassil, and his family did not possess such valuable assets.
None of the precarious actions mentioned in this article were investigated by any official party or entity.
Although Bassil’s actions may seem extreme and problematic, it is crucial to understand he is one of many. The corruption is an undistinguishable aspect of all Lebanese politicians, whose actions led the country to its current miserable state, extreme inflation, huge deficit and lack of essential products.
I am full of hope that the next government will be a true technocrat government and bring the change we Lebanese have begged for, but unfortunately it is most likely that my brothers in Lebanon will keep suffering under a corrupt regime.