Ambassador Elizabeth Richard’s Remarks at “GE Day”

Your Excellency Minister Abi Khalil, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to this event highlighting how General Electric can transform Lebanon’s power generation and distribution capabilities.  After decades of underinvestment, the power sector here needs this kind of focused attention if it is to deliver for the Lebanese people.

I believe that Lebanon is open to foreign investment, and American companies are already performing here in a significant way.

I was honored last month to help inaugurate a rehabilitated power plant in North Lebanon, which, along with a twin plant in the South, produces half of the electricity on Lebanon’s grid and represents the largest-ever U.S. private sector contract with the Lebanese government.

There is much more work to be done, and American firms are best positioned to help.  Lebanon’s electricity supply capacity is 1,500 Megawatts while demand exceeds 2,700 Megawatts.  The production shortages weaken Lebanese citizens’ faith in their government and have led to costly and inefficient temporary fixes.

Addressing the electricity crisis in this country is long overdue.  It is past time to move forward with the energy reforms so desperately needed — described in the government’s five-year investment program and reaffirmed during the CEDRE conference.  This economy cannot possibly grow without basic energy infrastructure in place.  Fix the power sector and signal to the world that Lebanon is open for business.

Several important reforms in the electricity sector are required, including reducing technical losses, switching from diesel to natural gas, increasing transmission capacity, and establishing a regulatory authority for the sector.

I also want to stress the importance of a fair and level playing field for international firms in the power sector – and, in fact, in every sector.   Lebanon needs policies in place that ensure fair treatment, transparent processes, and respect for contracts.  Lebanese entrepreneurs are known across the globe to be world class businessmen and women.   There is no reason they cannot attract world class American firms to work in Lebanon as well.

As the American Ambassador, I can tell you that our private sector is constantly frustrated by corruption and opaque procurement processes.

I have been very encouraged that Lebanese President Michel Aoun has consistently called for an end to corruption in this country.  Of course it is possible.  Continue efforts on procurement reform.  Publish terms of reference online for all bidders to see.  Share technical evaluations for all the offers the government receives.  And award contracts to companies that give Lebanon the best long-term value.

Changing the business culture in Lebanon will not be easy or always popular, but it will pay off with quality services for all consumers.   This will require political courage and engagement by the citizens of Lebanon to get this done.

I will leave the floor to the experts who can share details of GE’s technologies with you.  But I want to re-affirm that my government recognizes the importance of rehabilitating the electricity sector in Lebanon.

U.S. private investment in Lebanon and across the Middle East has been and can continue to be a significant driver of economic growth and can play an important role in regional stability.

We want to help.  American companies want to invest here.   Let’s work together to make it happen.