Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days

Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days
Parliament’s Media and Communications Committee agreed on Tuesday to ‘open an additional credit for Ogero to meet its needs of fuel and spare parts.’ (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 October 2021

Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days

Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days
  • Dollar exchange rates range from LBP1,507 to LBP16,000; people need a govt that works 24/7, says lawmaker

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s telecommunications and internet sector could collapse within days due to fuel shortages, a parliamentary committee warned Tuesday.

Parliament’s Media and Communications Committee said: “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, otherwise telecom services will crumble.”

Telecom companies in Lebanon have joined the long list of at-risk industries and institutions because of a financial and economic crisis. 

Electricite du Liban was unable to secure electricity for institutions and households in recent months, especially after the government subsidy on diesel was lifted. Diesel prices, which were set in US dollars, doubled as a result. 

Telecom services, including the internet, were intermittently suspended in several regions in recent months.

MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, who heads the committee, said: “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.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Telecom companies in Lebanon have joined the long list of at-risk industries and institutions because of a financial crisis.

• Electricite du Liban was unable to secure electricity for institutions and households in recent months, especially after the government subsidy on diesel was lifted.

• Diesel prices, which were set in US dollars, doubled as a result. Telecom services, including the internet, were intermittently suspended in several regions.

“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.”

The General Directorate of Oil decided in September to set the selling price of diesel at $549 per ton at oil facilities only, after liberalizing imports. 

There are no regulators for exchange rates, so Lebanon ended up with four: LBP3,900 to the dollar in commercial banks, LBP14,000 on the Central Bank’s Sayrafa platform, about LBP16,000 on the black market, while the official rate is still LBP1,507 to the dollar.

The state no longer controls diesel sales and has failed to put in place a mechanism for how its institutions, which only deal in Lebanese pounds, are able to buy diesel.

The committee agreed on Tuesday to “open an additional credit for Ogero to meet its needs for fuel and spare parts, at a value of LBP350 billion in the 2021 budget.”

Communications Minister Johnny Korm is expected to present this issue before the Cabinet on Wednesday.

The committee hoped the government would reach a “clear mechanism between the Ministry of Communications, Touch, Alfa, Ogero, and the oil facilities to provide the necessary quantities of diesel in Lebanese pounds.”

Ogero’s director general, Imad Kreidieh, said the internet service in Lebanon would be suspended if diesel was not provided to the corporation’s centers.

Committee member Rola Al-Tabash MP told Arab News: “We would slide into a new crisis that paralyzes 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.

“Each ministry is working on its own. Such action cannot help a country move forward. We need a government that works 24/7 and follows an integrated economic plan. After the health and the education sectors have collapsed, will the telecom sector follow suit? I don’t think citizens can bear such a thing.”


Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Updated 6 sec ago

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials
BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 07 December 2021

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast. 


UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
  • The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported

DUBAI: The UAE government will transition to a four-and-a-half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend starting Jan. 1, 2022 for all federal departments, state news agency WAM reported. 
The new system will be applied in all federal government entities with working hours from 7:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., it added.
Working hours on Fridays will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 12 noon, with the possibility of flexible working hours or work from home options during those days. Friday sermons and prayers will be after 1:15 p.m. all year long in the UAE. 
The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported.


UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
  • It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country
  • The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used

DUBAI: UAE rulers witnessed the launch of a new 50-dirham banknote on Tuesday, in celebration of the country’s 50th National Day. 
The initiative comes in honor of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and the country’s first generation of rulers to commemorate their dedication and historical role in uniting the country.
It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country.
“We see in this issuance the new phase that UAE will enter, and a renewed pledge to continue its growth path. The occasion also allowed us to express our appreciation and gratitude to our founding fathers by issuing a new AED50 banknote to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of the UAE. 
The front of the new banknote features a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed on the right, and the memorial picture of the founding fathers after signing the union document. 
Meanwhile, the back side includes a picture of the late Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement as well as illustration of the Etihad Museum, which witnessed the establishment of the union and the raising of the UAE flag for the first time.
According to state news agency WAM, the new banknote will be available in Central Bank branches and ATMs ‘in the near future’.
The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used.
Polymer banknotes are said to be more durable and sustainable than traditional cotton paper banknotes, lasting two or more times longer in circulation. They can also be completely recycled, thus reducing their environmental footprint.


Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
  • Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria

CAIRO: Fires caused by an Israeli “aggression” at Syria’s Latakia port on Tuesday had been extinguished, leaving material damage, but the status of any casualties was unclear, Syria’s state media reported.

Five explosions rocked the port city after an Israeli “aggression” hit the port’s container yard, sending fire trucks racing to the site, Syrian state TV said.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar Assad.

The Mediterranean port of Latakia is the country’s main port, through which food and other crucial supplies flow into war-torn Syria, and is close to Russia’s main air base of Hmeimim.