Lebanon comms minister blasts mobile operators

Jean-Louis Qordahi accuses Cellis and Libancell of deliberately blocking his ministry's attempts to track their revenues.

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By  David Ingham Published  April 14, 2003

Lebanon’s communications minister has accused the country’s two mobile operators, Cellis and Libancell, of trying to hinder his department’s efforts to track their revenues. The government needs the information to help it prepare tenders for the selloff of the two networks, which it took back from the operators in a unilateral move last year.

In comments to students at the Lebanese American University last week, reported by the Daily Star, Jean-Louis Qordahi said: “These guys have been fighting me all the way. But despite the pressure and intervention, I will make sure privatisation of the telecom sector is done in a transparent and rewarding manner.”

Cellis and Libancell received $180 million each in compensation for the cancellation of their licenses, since when they have been running the networks on the government’s behalf. The selloff of the mobile operators is an important part of the government’s privatisation strategy, which it committed to last year as part of a $4 billion international loan package dubbed ‘Paris II.’

Qordahi was full of venom for Cellis and Libancell, saying that their non co-operation would be highlighted in a report soon to be released by KPMG. “The report will clearly say that the two cellular operators are not co-operating with the ministry,” he said. “One of these companies refused two former employees of the firm that have been assigned by the ministry to check the networks.”

There are believed to be 800,000 mobile subscribers in Lebanon, a figure that has barely risen in the year since the licenses were cancelled, and annual revenues are reckoned to be somewhere in the region of $500 million. Estimates as to how much the government could raise by selling the networks vary, but there is agreement that the earlier license cancellations will drive down the amount that bidders will be prepared to offer.

However, Qordahi is adamant that pressure to privatise the telecomms sector will not lead to a firesale. “The World Bank and International Monetary Fund never said to sell the telecomms sector at any price,” he said. “These organisations want us to make the best use of state-owned assets to make good returns.”

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