BEIRUT: Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb said he accepted responsibility for short-term government losses caused by the reduction of Internet and phone rates, saying they were a necessary part of revitalizing an administration that has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption.
“The telecoms sector will experience a slight loss in the short term ... but I claim responsibility for the decision [to reduce prices],” Harb said at an event at the Kamal Jumblatt League’s office.
The Telecommunications Ministry reduced the prices of mobile services by 30 percent earlier this month, prompting many negative reactions among decision-makers.
“The new mobile Internet rates have got Lebanon closer to the region’s prices,” he said at the event, titled “Telecommunications in Lebanon: Between Public’s Indignation From the Daily Suffering and the Possibility of Rapid Reform,” which was also attended by MPs Ghazi Youssef, Amin Wehbi and Former Minister Abbas Khalaf.
Harb said the ministry’s problems weren’t merely financial but also included mismanagement.
“I was truly shocked by what I discovered about the ministry’s management and the lack of any long-term vision,” he said. “To be honest, the ministry was based on violating the law.”
“Bribes used to be paid by the ministry to some unknown institutions,” he added.
Harb said the ministry had suffered from nepotism, with bribery used to serve individual interests.
“The telecoms sector was on its way to devastation,” he said. “I chose to leave the March 8 versus March 14 division and transform the ministry into the service of all Lebanese, or else the sector would remain as it is.”
“I made the decision to make the ministry subject to the rule of law, and hold it apart from party politics,” he added.
The minister stressed the need to open the sector up to competition.
“The private sector is not the enemy of the public sector,” he said.
He said that privatization would not grant companies ownership of the sector, but would license them to invest in it while it remained the property of the government.
“Telecoms sectors in Syria and Saudi Arabia have already been privatized, in contrast to Lebanon,” Harb said.
The Higher Council for Privatization has revived plans to create a state-owned operator, Liban Telecom, through merging the operations of Ogero (a government-owned contractor) and two directorates of the Telecommunications Ministry.
Liban Telecom will be a joint-stock company and is to be privatized soon after its creation, as stipulated by Law 431.
MP Ghazi Youssef also spoke at the meeting, saying that creating touch and Alfa – the country’s two mobile operators – was a mistake.
“Those who contributed to the founding of the two mobile companies contributed to the collapse of the Telecoms Ministry,” Youssef said, adding that the move had made Lebanon subject to political tugging by different parties.
Youssef accused former Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui of “allowing total corruption without being held to account by anyone.”