The Cabinet has yet to decide whether to cancel or confirm the LibanPost management contract won by Merit Invest - the Lebanese holding of the Saadé family, which owns the French transport and logistics giant CMA CGM - and its subsidiary Colis Privé. Merit Invest won the contract twice out of three attempts by the state to find a successor for the postal service, but disagreements among ministers and objections by an obscure company by the name of Ghana Post have delayed the decision.
The predicament was examined by the ministers, including the president of the Public Procurement Authority, Jean Ellieh, and the president of the Court of Audit, Mohammed Badran last Wednesday, Nov. 1, when the Cabinet met. However, after a heated session in which the Minister of Telecommunications and the judge displayed completely opposing positions, the executive decided to postpone until the next meeting.
So, a contract between the state and a LibanPost’s successor remains unsigned and its future is becoming increasingly less certain, especially since the publication last September of a report by the Court of Audit criticizing the way the Ministry of Telecommunications managed the tenders. Following the announcement of the results of the third tender, the Authority for Public Procurement Regulation also shared an unfavorable opinion about the process.
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, caretaker Minister of Telecommunications Johnny Corm confirmed the postponement, indicating that in the meantime it would still be the company LibanPost holding the reins. LibanPost is owned by the Saradar group and the M1 holding of the family of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
According to a source close to the company who wishes to remain anonymous, LibanPost's workforce has been halved since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2019.
Merit Invest has not made a public statement and the Saradar group, which we contacted, declined to comment.
Postal services have been managed by LibanPost since 1998 and the contract has been renewed several times. Since the end of 2019, the most recent contract signed between the state and the company has been extended indefinitely.
In May 2022, the executive finally approved the launch of a new tender to put the contract up for grabs. Since then, three tenders have been launched; one attracted no bids, the second was won by Merit Invest and Colis Privé but was ultimately canceled, and the third, which Merit also won, has been shaky since the announcement of the results. Among the other peculiarities of this case is the presence of Ghana Post, a company that requested the tender specifications in each of the procedures launched, never submitted an offer, and even filed an appeal to the State Council, which got rejected, challenging the deadline for submitting bids.
Letter from Ghana Post chairman Wissam Achour
Ghana Post Company is chaired by Lebanese businessman Wissam Achour, who also owns the Lancaster hotel group and the company Nevada S.A.L., which has been managing the dining spaces at Beirut International Airport since July this year. However, the Minister of Telecommunications, quoted by the Nida al-Watan newspaper in its Thursday edition, said he was "convinced" that certain parties were trying to "destroy" the postal services sector in order to allow Wissam Achour to win this contract "for free."
Still, according to Nida al-Watan, Wissam Achour contacted the minister after the opening of the envelopes for the second allocation procedure in early spring last year. At that time, he would have asked him to modify the minimum share of revenues that operators are supposed to pay to the state from 10 percent to 7 percent.
Wissam Achour finally responded in a letter written by his lawyer, Fady Jamaleddine, and sent to the media on Thursday night. He asserts that after the "failure of the first two allocation procedures due to the lack of candidates (...), one of the close associates of the Minister of Telecommunications, who is also an adviser to another minister in the outgoing government," asked him to “send by phone the suggestions that Ghana Post deemed suitable for enhancing the attractiveness of the procedure."
Wissam Achour sent the requested suggestions to the Minister of Telecommunications via WhatsApp. The letter adds that Wissam Achour then visited the same minister with the aforementioned adviser – whom he did not name – before the third procedure came to an end, to "explain them verbally." It says that there was no other contact with the minister.
Johnny Corm confirms having made the statements attributed to him by Nida al-Watan and does not contest the content of Wissam Achour's letter. "After the failure of the first two tenders, we asked for the opinion of all the companies that had applied, in agreement with Jean Ellieh," he explains. "The problem is that Ghana Post requested the specifications in each procedure but never submitted an offer. This should mean that it was not interested in this contract even under the conditions we set during the third attempt," the minister continues.
He said: "The question I ask myself in the face of these elements is why Ghana Post then asked to extend the deadline for submitting bids during the third procedure if the conditions set did not suit them?" He indicated that Jean Ellieh himself considered in his final report that the extension requested by Ghana Post was not justified.