Riachi calls for privatizing Tele Liban, Radio Lebanon
State-run Tele Liban and Radio Lebanon should be partially privatized in a bid to cut government costs and curb mismanagement and financial losses, according to caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi. Riachi, who has been working on the privatization file for over two months, said partial privatization is the only solution to the many financial and administrative problems facing the state-run stations, which he said he believes are influenced by bureaucracy and political bickering.
“Privatization is the best solution to improve productivity in these two media stations and to put them back on a level where they can compete [with other stations] and reduce a large part of the load on the government treasury,” Riachi told The Daily Star, adding that the annual running cost for TL is LL20 billion ($13.3 million).
“Partnership between the private and public sector will surely revive [TL] and will grant it new management that limits political interference and financial waste,” he said.
Riachi’s comments came after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri last week approved Riachi’s request to partially privatize TL and Radio Lebanon. Hariri referred the request to the Higher Council for Privatization, headed by Ziad Hayek, where it will undergo further study by a consultant within a one-month period before it is sent back to the premier.
Hayek declined to comment on the matter, saying the council had not yet received the file from the office of the prime minister-designate.
For almost two years, TL has been without a chairperson or a board of directors since the resignation of the former board, headed by Talal Makdessi. Disputes followed within the government, mainly between Riachi and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, on the appointment of a new chairperson.
Riachi has repeatedly asked the government to appoint a new chairperson from a list of three shortlisted candidates who passed tests by the Civil Servants’ Council that demonstrated their qualifications for the position.
Meanwhile, Bassil has offered to approve the Cabinet’s appointment of a new chairperson for Tele Liban’s board of directors in exchange for the dismissal of the director of the state-run National News Agency, Laure Sleiman, with whom he is not on good terms.
The dispute has caused the Cabinet to postpone the issue many times. The shortlisted candidates for the post, which is customarily reserved for a member of the Greek Orthodox sect, are Elie Khoury, Beshara Charbel and Toufik Traboulsi.
Riachi said his privatization plan is not related to the Cabinet’s failure to appoint a new board, adding he would have pushed forward with his plan even if the Cabinet had made a new appointment.
Riachi expects a large number of investors from the private sector to be interested in the bid, in which the government will retain a 51 percent share in the station, with the remaining shares sold to the private sector.
“The archive’s department alone is extremely rich and is worth millions of dollars,” Riachi said.
As to the fate of the employees, Riachi explained that tenured staff members will remain in their posts, whereas contracted employees will be judged individually based on the merits of their competence and qualifications.