'The government is reviewing a shortlist of [potential] members,' says a senior Telecommunications Ministry official. 'It is intent on making a selection soon and before the Beirut donors' conference.' Once appointed, the independent TRA is expected to oversee the privatisation process in line with the policy laid out in telecommunications law 431 issued in July 2002.
The upcoming appointments follow the completion in December of an EU-funded three-year study, completed by Eurostrategies in co-operation with ministry officials looking into developing new regulations covering interconnection, retail and wholesale tariffs, spectrum management, licensing and fees and equipment certification. 'Fundamental to investor confidence is an independent telecommunications regulator with a set of internationally based regulations,' says Alan Horne, vice-chairman of InterConnect Communications, a subsidiary of Eurostrategies. 'Once appointed, the board will be in a unique position to go out to public consultation on the suit of regulations prepared.'
There is one fixed-line operator, Ogero, which is 100 per cent government owned, and two mobile operators currently offering services in Lebanon. Alfa, a joint venture of Germany's Detecon and Saudi Arabia's Fal Holding, and MTC Touch, part of Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC). The two four-year management contracts were awarded to Detecon and MTC in April 2004. The originally planned sale of the two GSM licences was stopped in 2003 because bids for the two build-operate-transfer (BOT) contracts did not meet the government's expectations (MEED 8:10:04).
'We would expect that the mobile operations would initially be part-privatised when the mobile managers contracts expire,' says Horne. 'By that time the regulation should be in place. Part-privatisation could then be followed by initial public offerings [IPOs].' Tenders for new licences for the fixed-line operator and both GSM operators are expected to take at least 18 months to be issued once the TRA has been appointed.