Lebanon: Zain and Orange in bid for state telecom management, despite political opposition

Published July 14th, 2015 - 10:18 GMT

The government will launch a public tender for the management of Lebanon’s state-owned mobile networks as previously planned despite objections by some factions in Cabinet, Telecom Minister Boutros Harb told The Daily Star Monday. “The objection to the new tender by some political parties is politically motivated but the government will go on with its plan anyway,” he said.

Less than a month ago, the government launched, through the authority in charge of tenders, an international tender for the management of the two state-owned mobile networks for a three-year term.

The authority said in a statement that the results of the bid would be announced on Sept. 8, 2015.

The statement added that mobile network operators that apply for the tender must have a track record of having provided telecom services for the past five years and on a continuous basis. The networks under their management should also have at least 10 million active subscribers.

Harb said some political factions are seeking to block the new tender because “they want the current companies to stay in the market to serve their own interests.”

“But we will continue with our initial plan in all cases,” he added.

Harb said that so far two companies have submitted applications to participate in the bid, namely Orange and Zain Group, the current operator of one of Lebanon’s state-owned networks. “We will soon also be receiving a third application from a Turkish company that asked for the modification of one item in the contract,” he said.

“So we have three companies applying for the tender so far.”

The Cabinet extended until the end of 2015 the existing management contracts for the country’s two mobile networks, currently operated under short-term renewable contracts by Kuwait’s Zain Group (the touch brand) and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding (the Alfa brand).

“The two new winning companies are expected to start their operations by the end of this coming year upon the end of the contracts of the old operators,” Harb said.

Harb added that the new management of the state-owned networks is part of a comprehensive plan to revamp the telecom sector.

The minister has on many occasions called for the improvement of services provided by telecom companies to citizens. “We need new companies to come and provide better services to citizens,” he said.

Harb noted that one of the current mobile operators has, for instance, employed only two technicians instead of the five requested by the ministry and that has had a negative impact on the service. “They did so to cut their expenses but this is unfair,” he said.

“We want the new companies to be able to take all the necessary measures to pave the way for the installation of the 5G connection in addition to preparing for other new advanced services,” he added.

By Dana Halawi

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