Lebanon could sink like Titanic, parliament speaker says

Maha El Dahan and Issam Abdallah
·2-min read
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session, as Lebanon's parliament approved a law that paves the way for the government to ink deals for coronavirus vaccinations, at UNESCO Palace in Beirut

By Maha El Dahan and Issam Abdallah

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Influential parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri said on Monday that Lebanon would sink like the Titanic if it could not form a government as he opened a session to approve emergency funds to literally keep the lights on for two more months.

"The whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic," Berri said. "It's time we all woke up because in the end, if the ship sinks, there'll be no one left."

Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis that poses the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war. Without a new government, it cannot implement the reforms required to unlock desperately needed foreign aid.

But prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun have been at loggerheads for months over the makeup of a new cabinet.

Parliament approved a loan of $200 million to pay for fuel for Lebanon's electricity company after a warning by the energy ministry that cash had run out for electricity generation beyond the end of the month.

"This should be enough for electricity for around two months or two-and-a-half," Cesar Abi Khalil, a member of parliament and former energy minister, told Reuters.

The Zahrani power plant, one of Lebanon's four main electricity producers, has already had to shut down for lack of fuel.

"Any shutdown in one of these big plants affects power generation negatively," Abi Khalil said. "This means Lebanese make up for it with generators that run on diesel that's 30% more expensive than the fuel that's bought by the electricity company."

Lebanon already lacks power generation capacity and homes and businesses have to cope with power cuts for several hours a day, forcing many to turn to private generators.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Issam Abdallah; Editing by Kevin Liffey)