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French Version


Hariri wary of cellular network revenue calculation (Daily Star)

Telecoms Minister: The Premier ‘thinks the ministry has made mistakes’
Qordahi: Since the government took over management of the telecom sector, revenues jumped from $22 million to $49 million


Telecommunication Minister Jean Louis Qordahi admitted on Monday that Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has some reservations about the manner in which the Telecommunication Ministry calculated the revenues of the cellular networks.

“Hariri thinks that the ministry has made mistakes in calculating the revenues of the cellular networks. But our people have different views on this matter,” Qordahi told reporters.

According to the minister, Hariri believes that the ministry did not take into account the $186 million payments to Cellis and LibanCell in return for the investments the companies had made, after the government revoked the contracts two years before their expiry. But Qordahi defended the figures released by the ministry, adding that his staff had proved to Hariri’s personal envoy that all their reports were accurate. “We have spent about $40 million in 15 months to upgrade the cellular networks,” the minister said.

Hariri, according to sources, told Qordahi last week that the ministry should double check some of their figures. These sources claim that if Qordahi took into the account the $186 million, the net value of the networks would be zero in 2006. They also estimate that upgrading the networks will cost $40 million each year.

Qordahi said that since the government took over the networks from Cellis and Libancell, the revenues had jumped from $22 million to $49 million. He added that the $186 million that was paid by the ministry at 7.5 percent interest is part of the government’s debt servicing and thus should not be viewed as a debt on the ministry.

But Hariri’s supporters downplayed the importance of these figures, adding that the ministry would have achieved the same revenues if the contracts with the current operators remained till the middle of this year.

However, the minister said that even if the government collected 50 percent share from the cellular companies, in addition to the taxes, the proceeds from these networks will not exceed $35 million each month. The minister also commented on the special parliamentary session next week to grill the government over its alleged failure to run the mobile networks.

Qordahi prepared a comprehensive statement which will demonstrate that the telecom sector is in a better shape after the government took over the networks. The statement will include detailed information about the cellular networks from 1993 until the present date.

Hariri is also expected to make a closing statement and many observers fear that the prime minister may try to contradict Qordahi.

The minister expressed fear that any clear split in the government during the parliamentary debate may have negative impact on the results of the cellular tender. “The debate on the telecom issue may have some impact on the tender but the ministry will proceed with this process anyway,” Qordahi said. He added that the ministry will keep the media posted about developments. “We will have a meeting with press every Monday until the tender is over in March 22 of this year,” the minister said. He added that five companies had so far acquired copies of the tender after paying $5,000 for each document.

Two other firms are also expected to take up copies of the documents in the next two days and several US and European companies have expressed interest in participating in the bidding. The ministry posted ads in all major Lebanese, Arab and international papers in an attempt to lure companies to participate in the bidding.

Interested parties can log on to the ministry web site at www.mpt.gov.lb to obtain more information about the tender.
He added that the tender does not mean that the government has abandoned plans to privatize the telecom sector.

Beirut 01-03-2004
Osama Habib
The Daily Star



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