May 5, 2020 / 3:55 PM / 22 days ago

Lebanese government to manage mobile networks ahead of new tender

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s government will take back management of the country’s two state-owned mobile phone networks after the latest contracts expired, and plans to prepare a new tender within three months.

Lebanon has only two service providers, Alfa and Touch, which bring in a huge chunk of revenues for the heavily-indebted state. The networks have been run respectively by Egypt’s OTMT since 2009 and Kuwait’s Zain Group since 2004, with the contracts repeatedly renewed.

A tender for new contracts to manage the mobile and data operators will be ready within three months, Telecom Minister Talal Hawat said in a tweet on Tuesday after a cabinet session. The ministry will run the networks in the meantime.

Since it took office in January, Lebanon’s government has grappled with a financial and economic crisis on a scale the country has never seen.

The state, which defaulted on its sovereign debt in March for the first time, has signed a request for IMF assistance. The crisis has slashed more than half the value of the local currency, sent prices skyrocketing and fuelled unrest.

In protests that erupted against the political elite late last year, one of the many grievances was over phone bills, which are some of the most costly in the region.

A parliamentary committee called last year for a probe into the telecoms duopoly.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter

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