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Qordahi accuses mobile firms of obstructing monitoring (Daily Star)

Qordahi accuses mobile firms of obstructing monitoring - Determining operators’ revenues is necessary precursor to sector’s privatization (Daily Star)

Telecommunications Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi on Wednesday accused the country’s two mobile telephone operators of obstructing the work of teams trying to verify the true revenues of their networks.

The minister also accused some ministers and certain quarters of protecting the interests of the mobile operators.
“These guys have been fighting me all the way. But despite the pressure and intervention, I will make sure privatization of the telecom sector is done in a transparent and rewarding manner,” the minister told a group of students at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

Qordahi, who is considered a strong supporter of President Emile Lahoud, shed some light on the obstacles facing his ministry’s efforts to liberalize the money-spinning telecom sector.

He said Dutch consulting firm KPMG will issue a report soon on the state of the mobile sector.“The report will clearly say that the two cellular operators are not cooperating with the ministry,” Qordahi said.

He added that both Cellis and LibanCell have refused to let inspectors and technicians do their work.“One of these companies refused two former employees of the firm that have been assigned by the ministry to check the networks,” he said.

The networks became the sole property of the ministry after both companies received $180 million in compensation for the termination of their contracts. The companies are still running the networks on behalf of the government until the ministry kicks off a tender and an auction.

However, the companies failed to fulfill an important part of the agreement stipulating that special devices be installed to monitor the networks’ traffic.

There are over 800,00 cellular users in Lebanon. Revenues stand at over $500 million a year. The government, which is openly divided over selling the telecom sector, wants to secure between $3 billion to $5 billion this year from privatization.

But Qordahi brushed aside reports that the government must sell the telecoms sector this year or lose its credibility.“The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund never said to sell the telecoms sector at any price. These organizations want us to make the best use of state-owned assets to make good returns.”

Qordahi said some ministers tried to suggest that he is getting kickbacks after he chose Ericsson to provide the ministry with technical assistance.“These ministers trusted me when I paid the companies $180 million, but they question my integrity when it comes to paying the small fees for Ericsson.”

The giant Swedish company won a $4 million contract to monitor the networks of the two companies.

Qordahi said the Ericsson offer was the best he had received.“Some ministers and (others) do not want anyone to install special devices to monitor the traffic. How can I tell for sure how much these firms are making if we do not check their true revenues?” the minister asked.

Qordahi also defended his personal adviser, who has been accused of taking bribes from companies: “My adviser is working for me for free. He was able to mobilize more than 20 qualified employees to help the ministry monitor the revenues of the networks.”

Qordahi stressed that he is not fighting the two companies for personal reasons.“I am not trying to get other firms to replace the current ones. I just want the firms to be more clear about their revenues,” Qordahi said.

He added that privatization will spur investment and job growth in the country.“It’s true that some staff will be laid off if a state-owned company is privatized. But once privatization happens, the telecom sector will attract greater investment in the long run.” He added that privatization will raise the value of the telecom sector from $1.5 billion to more than $2 billion.

Qordahi said that LebanonTelecom will be created in the next two months to organize the telecom sector and pave the way for its privatization.

Beirut 14-04-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star



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