INITIATING LAUNCH SEQUENCE

Lebanon 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

The ministry is focused on setting the stage for the knowledge economy to become a key contributor to GDP and a formidable pillar of the economy.

Adel Afiouni
BIOGRAPHY
Adel Afiouni was appointed Minister of State for Investment and Technology Affairs in January 2019. He is a former investment banker and an expert in international capital markets and emerging economies, with more than 25 years of experience in major investment banks in Paris, New York, and London, including 20 years at Credit Suisse in London between 1999 and 2018. Afiouni is a founding member of the Lebanese International Finance Executives Association (LIFE). He holds master’s degrees in Telecommunications Engineering from Sup Telecom Paris and in Finance from University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne.

The Ministry for Investment and Technology Affairs was recently created. Would you tell us about its importance and task?

The ministry's establishment reflects the increasing importance of the knowledge economy and technology in the larger economy. Following the McKinsey & Co. report on boosting Lebanon's productive sectors, we need to rethink our economy and its structure. The knowledge economy in particular is one of the key productive sectors that we want to focus on. Lebanon's competitive advantage lies in the human resources, in particular its intellectual talent. The creation of the ministry is a major step forward and strategic for the development of Lebanon. The sector can provide a solution to the problems of unemployment and brain drain. Circular 331, launched by the central bank, had the merit to jump-start the entire tech ecosystem and put it on the map. Lebanon is now number two in the region for number of startups and amount invested in startups. Our ambition is to complement the actions already taken by incentivizing non-bank investors in the knowledge economy, especially from the diaspora, and making business easier for SMEs and scale-ups through a number of new regulations and reforms. Another important focus is helping our companies to expand outside of the small Lebanese market. The third task for me is to attract job creators to the country, whether large multinationals or SMEs. Lebanon offers a number of competitive advantages to companies looking to base their regional operations here, such as a talented pool of young and entrepreneurial people with excellent levels of education; multilingual youth; a skilled, business-oriented workforce; and our strategic geographic location. We are working on promoting Lebanon as a tech hub, while also raising awareness of our story and brand. We have established a special economic zone (SEZ) in Tripoli, which will benefit from a special, business-friendly regime that will attract local and international companies. Balanced and regional development is an important part of our strategy, and this is the easiest way to be successful in the IT sector. Besides the SEZ in Tripoli, we want to create tech hubs and knowledge villages across Lebanon.

Can you tell us about your digitalization efforts?

Digital transformation in the public sector is a central pillar of the government's mandate. We are working on establishing an e-government platform in collaboration with the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR), and the Ministry of Telecommunications (MOT), under the auspices of the Prime Minister. We have seen a lot of plans related to digital transformation over the last 15 years, and now it is time to execute them. This is a complex plan that will require different skill sets and resources; the transition will be gradual. It is important for the citizens to feel that their journey is becoming simpler and more digital, and this applies also to the government. This will create greater efficiency, transparency, and help fight corruption. Another achievement of digital transformation was the recently approved Law No. 81/2018, which will facilitate electronic transactions and e-commerce. We also have plans for cyber security. If we want to attract companies and do business with the outside world, then we need to have highest standards and best practice.

What is your outlook for 2019?

Our upmost priority is to make the right reforms on the economic front to put Lebanon and its people back on track for growth and prosperity. We are finalizing the electricity plan, which is an important part of our economic strategy, and working on reducing the budget deficit. Structural and sectorial reforms are key and some of these reforms have already started. The next priority is launching large infrastructure projects to improve economic activity and create jobs. As for the ministry, it will focus on making the knowledge economy a key pillar of Lebanon's economy.