The telecommunications sector file and demands to replace OGERO Telecom chief Abdul Menhem Youssef over corruption claims consumed much of the cabinet session that was held on Thursday.
“The cabinet continued discussing the situations of the Telecom Ministry and the telecom minister answered the questions that some ministers had asked during the previous session and the ministers expressed their viewpoints over these answers,” said the cabinet in a statement recited by Information Minister Ramzi Jreij after the meeting.
“The cabinet decided to continue its discussions over the telecom sector situations in light of the outcome of the ongoing judicial investigations in this regard and the recommendations that the telecom minister is supposed to propose,” Jreij added.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab of the Free Patriotic Movement said the FPM ministers asked Telecom Minister Butros Harb during the meeting to “resolve the telecommunications crisis instead of defending Abdul Menhem Youssef.”
“The issue of Abdul Menhem Youssef consumed the entire session and the telecom minister strongly defended him,” Bou Saab added.
“We demanded to start the reform process with the issue of Abdul Menhem Youssef,” he said.
Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon meanwhile said that he was “shocked by the magnitude of public funds squandering and scandals in the telecom sector,” noting that Harb “is trying to address the situation.”
For his part Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan of Hizbullah said that “the debate was lengthy but fruitless.”
MTV reported that several ministers voiced dismay over “the cabinet's inability to take a decision regarding Abdul Menhem Youssef.”
“The cabinet session witnessed tensions between the ministers of the FPM and the Progressive Socialist Party on the one hand and Minister Butros Harb on the other after the ministers demanded the appointment of a replacement to Abdul Menhem Youssef,” MTV said.
Harb responded by saying that it is up to him to take a decision in this regard seeing as the issue falls under his jurisdiction, the TV network added.
Prior to the session, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Mutalleb Hennawi, who is close to ex-president Michel Suleiman, announced that “Abdul Menhem Youssef cannot be replaced without a judicial ruling,” noting that he had been appointed “through a cabinet decree.”
Media reports had expected a fierce debate between Harb and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil of the FPM over what reports described as "personal gains" linked to the telecom file.
Discussions were supposed to tackle renewing the contracts of the two mobile service providers and the file of the illegal internet supply network that was uncovered in March.
Youssef was interrogated in April by the Central Inspection Bureau over charges of negligence in preserving public funds in the Internet file and another case related to embezzling money from the employees' salaries under the excuse of the VAT tax.
The embezzlement lawsuit was filed by former Telecom Minister Charbel Nahhas.
Four illegal internet stations have been discovered so far in the mountainous terrains of Dinniyeh, Oyoun al-Siman, Faqra and Zaarour.
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil has said that the smuggled internet costs the state around $200 million in lost revenues every year.
Early in March, the media and telecom parliamentary committee unveiled that there is a “mafia” that is taking advantage of illicit internet services by installing internet stations that are not subject to state control.
The owners of these stations are buying international internet bandwidth with nominal cost from Turkey and Cyprus which they are selling back to Lebanese subscribers at reduced prices, reports have said.
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