Sources close to the deal say that only three of the seven groups that responded to the tender were judged to be technically qualified. Spain’s Telefonicais understood to have submitted the second-highest bid after Wataniya, and Orascom Telecomof Egypt was third. Officials at the Communications Ministry have declined to give any details about the number or identity of the groups that submitted proposals by the 9 February deadline. An official announcement is expected in mid March.

Telefonica, with Portugal Telecom, was the highest bidder for the licence the first time the tender was launched last March. The group’s initial proposal of $333 million was higher than that of its only rival, Telecom Italia Mobile, but the government said the offer was too low. The Iberian consortium upped its proposal to $381 million, but this was still deemed unsatisfactory by the Communications Ministry, which cancelled the tender (MEED 17:8:01).

In an attempt to attract more candidates and higher prices in the second bid round, which was launched in October, the Communications Ministry relaxed some of the bid requirements. Under the new terms the selected candidate will be able to pay the licence fee in two instalments and the exclusivity period has been extended to three years.

Analysts, who believe that the government is holding out for a bid in the region of $500 million, had previously been sceptical of Tunisia’s ability to attract such a high offer. However the amended terms make the licence more appealing, they say. But some caution that the Kuwaiti proposal, which does not have a breakdown, may be part of a negotiating strategy enabling Wataniya to get its foot in the door.

Paris-based Rothschild Conseil Internationalis advising the government on the licence sale.