BEIRUT: Caretaker Telecommunications Minister Charbel Nahhas told The Daily Star Friday that most of the sector’s 2010 revenues have been channeled to local municipalities, with the remaining going to the treasury and to upgrading Lebanon’s languishing telecoms network to third-generation technologies (3G).
Telecom revenues neared $2 billion in 2010, Nahhas said, adding that the ministry has diverted around $900 million to municipalities, and $600 million to the treasury. He said $500 million would be used to cover costs.
Caretaker Finance Minister Rayya Hassan had previously said that Nahhas was holding revenues hostage by not sending required funds to the treasury. She claimed Nahhas was obstructing the government’s budgetary process. Nahhas denies the allegations.
During a news conference at the Telecommunications Ministry Thursday, Nahhas said 58 percent of the ministry’s relatively large yearly revenue had wasted away “in a large web of self-interests.” He estimates that $60 billion in telecommunications funds had been grossly mismanaged by previous finance ministries.
Many view the Telecommunications Ministry as a treasure trove of the Lebanese state. Income from telecoms is the second source of revenue for the state after value added tax.
Nahhas vowed that plans to revamp the sector with 3G technologies would “completely change the face” of telecoms in Lebanon. He said Internet speeds would reach 21 megabytes per second, a considerable leap from the current Internet speed average of 0.1 megabytes per second. Nahhas said the Lebanese would benefit from the changes in seven months time.
The Telecommunication Ministry has recently commissioned the services of Swedish giant Ericsson to set up a fiber optics grid. Ericsson offered to perform the services for $6.3 million.
Nahhas said that costs of the fiber optics grid would total $67.4 million over a three to five year period.
Telecom costs would fall by up to 30 percent for most end users, particularly those in the working class, he added.
Nahhas said the ministry would press on with plans, in spite of its caretaker status. He added that he would not need to seek legislative approval to allocate finances for its projects since the changes he seeks to undertake were within his ministerial powers.