After months of discussion, criticism, and referral of the matter to the government, the Council of Ministers has terminated the third attempt to grant a contract for the management of Lebanon's postal services.
The contract was initially granted to the Lebanese holding company Merit Invest in July last year. Merit Invest is owned and managed by the Saadé family, who also own the French transport and logistics giant CMA CGM. The holding company partnered with Colis Privé, a French subsidiary of CMA CGM, and planned to seek "technical" assistance from La Poste, the primary French postal services operator.
However, the Council of Ministers have decided against awarding the holding company the contract, which would have entrusted it with Lebanon’s postal services for nine years. Consequently, LibanPost has been forced to remain in its current position, despite the desire of its shareholders, the Saradar group, and the family holding company of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, to withdraw from the sector.
Caretaker Minister of Telecommunications Johnny Corm has extended LibanPost’s contract, which has been in place since 1998, until a new invitation to tender, the fourth in a row, is issued and reaches a valid result. Contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour, the Council of Ministers, specified that the new invitation to tender will only open to companies licensed to manage mail and parcel delivery services or the sale of mail supplies in countries other than Lebanon.
LibanPost, having finally aligned its rates — except for the mail services —- with the actual exchange rate of the Lebanese pound, has seen its workforce halved in the last four years of the economic crisis. According to an anonymous source within the company, their staff has decreased from nearly 900 to around 400 members. Furthermore, the company does not intend to make any investments because of the economic situation, and the expiration of its last contract granted by the Lebanese state.
The tender, which the caretaker government decided to scrap, was criticized by the Public Procurement Authority and the Court of Audits. This led Corm to refer the matter to the Council of Ministers to decide whether to confirm or cancel the outcome of the procedure. The validity of the outcome was also contested by the Ghana Post Company, chaired by Lebanese businessman Wissam Achour. However, the court ultimately rejected its appeal last summer.
This is the third consecutive procedure initiated since autumn 2022 attempting to put the postal services management contract back up for tender. The first round attracted no bidders and in the second and third rounds, Merit Invest was the only bidder. In recent months, Corm also criticized the Ghana Post Company, which requested the specifications for each procedure without submitting any bids.
Speaking to the newspaper Nidaa el-Watan almost a month ago, Corm stated that he was "convinced" that certain parties were seeking to "destroy" the postal services sector to allow Wissam Achour to win the contract "free of charge." Corm was accused by some members of the government of having drawn up an invitation to tender, tailor-made for CMA CGM. He denied the allegations.
The Saradar group did not comment on the Council of Ministers' announcement, and CMA CGM "does not wish to comment."
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.