Lebanon News

Committee verifies illegal hires at Ogero, ministry

Ogero Telecom building in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee Monday verified that 453 people had been hired at the state-run telecoms company Ogero and another 55 people at the Telecommunications Ministry after a public sector hiring freeze.

MP Ibrahim Kanaan, chair of the committee, made the announcement after a hearing with Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair and Ogero head Imad Kreidieh.

“Today we verified the Central Inspection Bureau’s report regarding the 453 people hired [at Ogero] and the 54-55 in the administration of the Telecommunications Ministry,” Kanaan said in a televised news conference after the hearing.

According to Kanaan, Choucair also revealed to the committee that 400-500 people received salaries from Lebanon’s two mobile phone providers, Alfa and Touch, without actually working for the companies. However, it was unclear whether these “employees” were hired during the hiring freeze.

While the hearing was still underway, committee member MP Jihad Samad gave a news conference at Parliament, alleging that Ogero had also hired 1,360 new day workers between 2016-18, consequently increasing costs at the company from LL137 billion (about $90 million) to LL327 billion - nearly a 140 percent increase.

Samad also alleged there were more than 20 advisers on Ogero’s payroll, whose salaries “cost a total of $100,000 monthly.” One of these advisers, he claimed, was the head of a company that has been awarded almost 80 percent of Ogero’s contracts.

But according to Kanaan, Kreidieh said at the hearing that the employment contract with the would-be adviser was canceled and he had not received a single payment.

Kanaan said the committee was investigating all of Samad’s claims.

The parliamentary committee has requested detailed documents on all hiring at Ogero and the Telecommunications Ministry “from 2005 until today,” and is awaiting their explanations regarding the illegal hiring, Kanaan said.

The state-run National News Agency reported that the committee will hold a session Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. to continue discussing the CIB’s report on illegal hiring and a similar report from the Civil Service Council. He also revealed that the committee was investigating allegations that an unspecified ministry and an unspecified public administration was still currently hiring new employees.

The Finance and Budget Committee has been investigating the hiring of about 5,000 people after a freeze on public sector hiring began in August 2017. Most of this illegal hiring took place in the run-up to the May 2018 parliamentary elections, allegedly as a way to buy votes.

Late February, the committee announced it had also found about 15,000 state employees had been hired outside the legal employment framework, some of whom may have been hired during the freeze.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 12, 2019, on page 2.




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