The Tunisian government is planning to sell a stake in the country's telecommunications monopoly, Tunisia Telecoms, to local and foreign investors, according to the communications minister, cited by Reuters.
"A part of Tunisia Telecoms' capital will be opened to private Tunisian and foreign investors in line with a worldwide trend [towards] opening the sector to competition," Ahmed Friaa was quoted as saying by state news agency TAP yesterday.
"The date of opening Tunisia Telecoms to private investors will be announced at the appropriate time," Friaa said without giving further details, according to the agency.
But he stressed that the government would retain a majority stake in the firm, suggesting that a future private shareholding in the company would be less than 49%.
The minister was also quoted by the Essahafa daily as denying that the government would sell a 49% stake.
Tunisia Telcoms has a monopoly in the country's fixed-line telephone and cellphone services.
It has about 1.2-million fixed telephone subscribers and runs the only GSM phone network, with an estimated 150,000 subscribers.
The government has set next Saturday as the closing date for a tender to sell a second cellphone license to foreign operators. Friaa said the name of the winner would be announced in July or August, according to Reuters.
"It will be the biggest foreign investment ever made," he said, without giving a precise indication of the price.
Foreign investment in Tunisia for 2000 totaled $792.3 million, a 122% increase from 1999, according to the latest government figures.
Friaa's comment on selling a stake in Tunisia Telecoms came two days after President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali instructed the government to draw up a plan to open more state-owned business to private shareholders.
"Opening the capital of more state-owned companies to private shareholding will satisfy the increasing demands of private investors," Ben Ali sais, according to Reuters.
Market analysts said the sell-off could be similar to the sale of shares in the state-owned telecommunications engineering company Sotetel.
The government floated a 40.6% stake in Sotetel in 1998, and since then the company has risen to become the star of the stock exchange. Sotetel shares rose more than 200% in 2000.
"The minister's remarks suggested that the government is encouraged by the Sotetel experience and it is very likely that it will do the same with Tunisia Telecoms," said a bourse analyst - Albawaba.com
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