The government had planned to award contracts to private operators to run Electricite du Liban in the first half of the year, while the telecoms regulator had expected to auction the country’s two mobile operators to the highest bidders (MEED 7:5:08).

Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora has been unable to appoint ministers to the electricity and telecoms ministries because the majority and opposition parties are arguing over the finance, foreign affairs, defence and interior briefs.

A source close to the privatisation process says the political parties have yet to debate who will take charge of the Telecommunications Ministry.

The government is seeking to improve the performance of Electricite du Liban, which has been losing up to $1bn a year. While it wants to sell off the two phone operators because it has become increasingly indebted. The budget deficit is estimated at more than 10 per cent of gross domestic product for 2007.

The telecoms minister in the previous government, Marwan Hamadeh, estimated that the two mobile phone companies would be sold for a total of $6bn (MEED 1:2:08).

The mobile networks are managed by Kuwaiti company Zain and a joint venture of Deutsche Telekom and Fal Holdings of Saudi Arabia.