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French Version


Cellular fiasco gets even uglier accusations fly as sell-off languishes (Daily Star)

Qordahi wants head of Higher Privatization Council fired for saying ministry installed listening devices on mobile networks

Telecommunications Minister Jean Louis Qordahi called on the government over the weekend to terminate the service of Ghazi Youssef, the secretary-general of the Higher Privatization Council, because of his attempts to sabotage the auction and tender of the cellular networks.

The minister’s comments came in response to Youssef who allegedly said in an interview that the devices installed by the ministry to determine cellular line traffic were merely listening devises.

Youssef was also quoted as saying that the Telecommunications Ministry was holding up the progress of the tender process by asking for unreasonable prices for the cellular sector.

However, Youssef said in a statement that the magazine, Al-Iqtisad wal Aamal had misquoted him. The weekly magazine insisted that the contents of the interview were accurate and that it had a recording of the talk with Youssef.

Some experts suggested that this incident was simply an extension of the bitterness between President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

They added that privatization is not expected to take place in the coming months as long as both Lahoud and Hariri are in power.
The government was hoping to generate $3 billion from the privatization of the cellular networks in order to reduce the $32 billion public debt.

Qordahi, a close supporter of Lahoud, said that Youssef’s appointment to his post was contrary to the proper procedures.
He added that Youssef tried to sabotage the auction and tender by speculating that the government will not get a fair price for the cellular networks.

Some critics claim that Hariri and his supporters unofficially deny that the revenues of the cellular networks have increased after becoming the property of the state.

In response to such comments, Qordahi said that the ministry has handed more than $524 million of revenues to the Finance Ministry between 2002 and 2003 compared to less than $400 million in 2001. He added that the net revenue of the cellular networks up to September of this year was $447 million.

Qordahi highlighted in a statement that he filed a report to Hariri which said that the government can generate at least $8.5 billion from securitization of future cellular networks with a 7 percent interest rate. He added that the revenues from securitization could reach $13 billion if the revenues of the cellular networks were increased.

In an indirect criticism of Hariri, the minister said that the government was able to reschedule one third of the public debt, or $10.3 billion, but was not able to reduce the cost of debt servicing which is estimated at LL4,000 trillion.

Six local and international firms have officially made bids for the auction and tender of the cellular networks last month.

A source said that the government may review the final offers next month. But few doubt that the government will be able to get $1 billion for each cellular license.

Beirut 01-12-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star



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