Companies interested in managing, owning or operating the networks must have at least five years experience in operating a GSM network and have a base of at least 350,000 subscribers, the RFA stated. Under the schedule, applicants which have submitted an expression of interest and met the criteria will receive a copy of the information memorandum on 6 January. HSBCis advising the government in the sale.

The issue of the RFA came a week after the government settled its long-running dispute with GSM operators Cellisand Libancelland agreed on the terms for the transfer of their networks to the state in January. The two firms were seeking compensation after they had their 10-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) contracts for the country’s two cellular networks, due to run until 2004, cancelled in July 2001. Libancell and Cellis, a subsidiary of France Telecom, invested millions of dollars in developing the country’s GSM network, but they exceeded the 250,000 lines stipulated in their licence contracts (MEED 20:12:02).

Lebanon, which is suffering from debt amounting to over 170 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), has been under pressure from the World Bank to push ahead with the privatisation of the telecoms sector. The government has said that it will not sell the two licences if it does not receive fair offers for them. Telecoms Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi has said he favours hiring a third party to run the networks if offer prices do not meet expectations.