Customs Strike Causes Fuel Supply Interruptions, Sparking Shortage Fears Across Lebanon

May 20: Lebanese motorists have swarmed to gas stations across the country over fears of a possible runout if the strike carried out by customs employees continues. 

Confusion erupted after Fadi Abou Chakra, a member of the Syndicate of Gas Station Owners, warned on a local TV station of an impending shortage if the matter isn’t resolved. 

His claims were quickly quashed by the head of the Syndicate Sami Brax, who told Annahar that “a crisis doesn’t exist.” He further stated, “There is no need to frighten people and cause a panic.”

Yet in a statement issued Monday, the Syndicate called on the customs employees to lift their strike to ensure that “operations proceed smoothly and spare Lebanon from any possibility of a shortage of fuel.”

Despite oil tankers delivering fuel to Lebanon’s port, distributors have not been able to access these loads and transport them to gas stations. This has caused supply interruptions, raising concerns of a possible runoff in the next 24 hours. 

Customs employees, like many other public sector workers, have been protesting proposed austerity measures targetting their wages and benefits. 

The Cabinet is currently discussing the 2019 draft budget, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri maintaining Monday that “the discussions regarding possible cuts to wages have yet to take place.”

The budget deficit has been set at 7.6 percent of GDP, Hariri said, down from the current 11 percent or $4.5 billion. Reducing the deficit by one percent each year over five years at least is one of the conditions stipulated in the CEDRE IV aid package, which officials have yet to secure.

Details of the budget have been under wrap, with officials reluctant to share much of the proposals for fear of further backlash from public sector employees. 

What is certain, however, is that cuts to MPs, Ministers, and the President’s wages have been agreed, Hariri said. 

Retired military personnel have been the most vocal in their opposition, with protesters pushing back against police lines and setting fire to tires outside the Government House in downtown Beirut while ministers discussed the budget. 

They were heard shouting “thieves” before being hit with heavy water cannons as they attempted to break through. 

It remains to be seen if ministers will manage to include a cut to public wages, which coupled with those of the military and security forces, accounted for one-third of the state’s $16 billion budget, or roughly $6 billion last year. 

Source: An-Nahar

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