Lebanon’s parliamentary Media and Communications Committee yesterday issued an urgent warning that the telecoms sector could ‘collapse’ within days due to fuel shortages, Arab News reports. Voice and internet services have been intermittently suspended in various regions in recent months after problems stemming from the country’s financial crisis, and electricity shortages were exacerbated by shortages of diesel to power back-up generators, with vital sectors including hospitals, education and communications all suffering as a result. The latest statement from the Committee disclosed: ‘The quantity of diesel at Lebanon’s state-owned Touch and Alfa mobile companies and the state-run telecommunications company Ogero, which operates fixed lines and fixed internet, is enough to run for only a few days, [without which] telecom services will crumble.’ Arab News notes that the Committee yesterday agreed to ‘open an additional credit for Ogero to meet its needs for fuel and spare parts, at a value of LBP350 billion [USD232 million] in the 2021 budget.’ Telecoms minister Johnny Korm is expected to present the issues to Cabinet today.
Head of the Committee, Hussein Hajj Hassan, highlighted some of the problems facing the sector: ‘The dilemma is not limited to the inability to secure diesel, but also the inability to purchase spare parts, whose prices have become exorbitant. In addition, we have thefts targeting telecom networks in Lebanon, some stolen pieces of spare parts and transmission poles are being sold online. It turned out that Touch and Alfa, which get diesel from oil facilities, now have to pay for it in dollars, so now government institutions are required to pay in dollars. This is complicated because companies do not have the right to buy with dollars from the market, and this increases the cost, and this foreign currency is not available.’ Committee member Rola Al-Tabash explained further to Arab News: ‘We would slide into a new crisis that paralyses everything in Lebanon and isolates it from the world if diesel for the telecom network’s generators is not provided. The Ministry of Energy’s policy over the years has led to this inability to secure power. The General Directorate of Oil, which considers itself an independent administration, has set its prices in dollars, and the state cannot buy with dollars.’