Telecom minister Nicolas Sehnaoui is in the news every day it seems, either launching new initiatives or defending past ones.
Today he was responding to allegations by MP Ghazi Youssef–of the rival Future Movement–who had accused him of “stealing” millions during the deployment of 3G and other projects.
The accusations were rubbish lies, he said, and Youssef and his FM cohort “didn’t want the country to advance.”
“The Lebanese people are happy to have 3G,” Sehnaoui told reporters. “The Lebanese people are living on 3G.” 
That may be a bit of stretch since 3G is exorbitantly priced at up to $100 per additional gig (nearly a quarter of monthly minimum wages) and that’s if you can get a signal.     
Still who could oppose technology? 
I met Youssef a couple of years ago when writing a piece on why Lebanon’s internet has been the world’s slowest for years. Why didn’t the government simply purchase more bandwidth during the 2000s, when he was in power?
I’ll never forget what he said. He took a puff of a cuban cigar and exhaled slowly:
“It was never clear to me why they did not buy more bandwidth.”
I wonder why Youssef was not as vigilant about reporting abuses back then as he is now.
In fact I’m not even sure why this story is news today. Sehnaoui and Youssef have called press conferences to make similar accusations and counter accusations in January, February and April. And that is just this year.  
Sehnaoui ended his remarks today by accusing his rivals of obstructing the ministry’s work to score political points ahead of elections. But if the minister was so busy “putting Lebanon back on the telecommunications map” as he put it, then how does he have time for so many appearances?
If the minister wanted to clear all accusations, why not put all ministry projects and cost figures online?
I put this question to his advisor last month, exhausted by how hard it was to find figures on the fiber optic rollout. His answer?
“I don’t know if there is a need for that. No one is asking for it.”
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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. “No one is asking for it.”

    Yes! Someone IS asking for it! US THE PEOPLE ARE ASKING FOR IT!!! I need to know where my tax money is all going?! The money that they so eloquently pull out of my salary every month, and impose on every purchase that I ever make in this country.

    We don’t need to ask for the figures that we constribute to create. We deserve to get those figures shoved in our face… just like those million and one marketing SMS messages that we get every hour of every day. Someone is asking for transparency… someone is asking for the figures… THE PEOPLE!!!

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