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The Ministries of Finance and Telecoms seem to be engaged in a blame game, in which the main victim is the public telephone and internet provider in Lebanon, Ogero, whose services risk coming to a halt at any time due to a lack of fuel.

The Ministries of Finance and Telecoms are at the heart of a typical Lebanese-style muddle, in which Ogero seems to be the main victim. Despite receiving approval from the government, the public internet supplier has not received any money transfers for maintenance works and fuel purchase to operate power generators since the beginning of the year. Consequently, its services risk coming to a halt at any time due to a lack of fuel.

Sources at the Ministry of Finance told This is Beirut that they have transferred $13.25 million to the Ministry of Telecommunications to cover Ogero’s fuel and network maintenance, but the latter retorted that it could not dispose of the money.

The sources asserted that the funds have been accessible since Friday, June 9, but their release was contingent upon the signature of Telecoms Minister Johnny Corm, who has constantly sounded the alarm about Ogero’s dire financial situation.

Procedural defect

The ministries have been engaged in a blame game, with each side accusing the other of causing complications. Both ministries assert that they are acting in accordance with the law.

Contacted by This is Beyrouth, Corm indicated that the problem is procedural. He explained that the supplementary budgets (Article 115) earmarked for his Ministry were revoked under the finance law for the 2022 financial year. As a result, the ministry’s accounts were closed and transferred to the Ministry of Finance in line with Article 15. Subsequently, the Ministry of Telecoms is no longer able to collect or make payments.

“I managed to get a decision in the Council of Ministers stipulating that given the absence of decrees for the implementation of this law, it would be suspended, and the previous system of supplementary budgets would be reinstated until the decrees are completed. However, the Ministry of Finance responded that a decision of the Council of Ministers cannot override a law, which is true under normal circumstances,” Corm admited.

He added that it is explicitly stated that “in case no implementing decrees are available, the law may be suspended.”

Due to the legal ambiguity surround the matter, the Finance Ministry estimates that $26 million, which are currently held in the Ministry of Finance accounts and are presumed to belong to the Ministry of Telecoms, do not actually belong to either ministry.

“This amount is currently in a pending state. According to the law, it belongs to the Ministry of Finance but due to the absence of the implementing decrees, the $26 million are neither the responsibility of the Ministry Finance nor that of the Ministry of Telecoms,” Corm explained.

Consequently, the Ministry of Finance asked the Minister of Telecoms to have his ministry’s chartered accountant (in charge of the accounts between Telecoms and Finance) to make a transfer to Ogero, but Corm responded, “I have no right to do it.”

“Moreover, the position of chartered accountant has already been abolished by law,” he added.

In view of the gravity of the situation, the Ministers of Finance and Telecoms, supported by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, will seek today, June 12, the legal directive of the consultative body on whether the Minister of Telecoms has the power to carry out transactions on the Finance Ministry’s bank account.

“I will comply with whatever the consultative body decides. If it confirms that I can dispose of it, I will. If not, it will be up to the Ministry of Finance to do it,” Corm said.

A loan to operate Telecom Centers for three days

Corm revealed to This is Beirut that his Ministry purchased 120,000 liters of fuel to operate the main telecom centers for three days, until Wednesday, June 14 after obtaining a loan.

Some 60,000 liters of fuel are needed to operate Ogero’s generators per day.

Last week, Corm warned that Ogero’s centers risked stopping from Monday, June 12, for lack of funds to supply them with fuel.

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