|02 August, 2019

Lebanon's Telecom Ministry buys touch building for $75mln

The purchase payments would be made in three installments, with the last one in 2022.

A general view shows the Touch telecommunications building, managed by Zain, in Beirut, Lebanon November 24, 2016.

A general view shows the Touch telecommunications building, managed by Zain, in Beirut, Lebanon November 24, 2016.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT: The Telecommunications Ministry has bought a building housing mobile operator touch for $75 million in a move that aims to save on annual rents. The building is located in Beirut’s Downtown, also known as Solidere.

Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair said in a statement Thursday that he had negotiated the deal with all the concerned parties before finally agreeing to buy the premises on behalf of the state.

The government’s previous arrangement for the same building was $70 million, or $7 million annually, for 10-years’ rent.

Choucair said an agreement had been reached between touch and the owner of the building to revoke the rental contract and replace it with a purchasing agreement.

He added that the purchase payments would be made in three installments, with the last one in 2022.

This building will be fully owned by the government even if the contract with touch expires in the future.

Touch is one of two mobile companies that operates Lebanon’s cellular networks on behalf of the state.

All revenues generated from cellular services belong to the state. In return, touch and Alfa receive annual fees for operating the networks.

Touch operates over 2 million mobile lines in Lebanon.

Established in 2004, touch (formerly known as MTC touch) is the leading mobile telecommunications and data operator in Lebanon, with a market share standing at 53 percent. It is managed by Zain Group, the region’s first mobile and data services operator.

Telecommunications is the third source of government revenues, after Customs and value added tax.

The government used to collect over $2 billion in revenues from landline and cellular phone usage each year. But in recent months these revenues have dropped.

In the first five months of 2019, telecommunications revenues fell by 8.47 percent compared to the same period last year. Choucair attributed the drop to the growing use of mobile application WhatsApp.

But MP Jamil al-Sayyed blasted the purchasing agreement between Choucair and the owner of the building housing touch.

In a tweet, Sayyed questioned how a minister could buy a building for $75 million in public money with the stroke of a pen. He accused Choucair of duping people by claiming the aim of the purchase was to save Treasury money. Sayyed even suggested that people should go to Choucair’s office and “teach him a lesson.”

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