The end of this government’s tenure is nigh and only a few days left till they hand over reins to the caretaker government, provided that no such activity or incident occurs that would change the status. The state of financial affairs is in front of everyone. The only sector that is still standing and generating a modicum of revenue despite all the odds is the telecom sector. Where other businesses like textile, sports, exports and agriculture came to a grinding halt due to the overwhelming pressure of inflation and shortage of petrol, oil, gas and electricity, this sector managed to face the wind.
The resilience did not go unnoticed by our dearly departing government and the last couple of years, especially the last year speaks of their intentions as to how best to kill the goose that lays golden eggs and have the eggs all at once. The focal point was to generate a great deal of revenue within a short period of time without having to worry about long-term effects on the economy was to license 3G spectrum which would generate multibillion dollar revenue in a single go .
Scheduled to be launched in 2005-06 as per original FAB and PTA documentation, 3G licensing was rescheduled in 2008. Since then, every year Pakistan People Party (PPP) Government has tried utmost to carry out the auction but failed miserably every time. The year 2012 witnessed 3G auction getting postponed/cancelled thrice on various grounds ranging from issues with the preparation of Information Memorandum (IM), a document that helps mobile operators who intend to bid for the license, to the illegal appointment of 3G consultants.
Ever since the retirement of former chairman of PTA, Muhammad Yasin, the government has tried to play PTA according to its own desires. Malicious intent of the government can be deciphered from its actions when Secretary of IT, Farooq Awan was appointed as member of PTA against the selection criteria for the post and then immediately after a couple of days, made Chairman of the regulatory authority. Farooq Awan not only did came to power illegally, he tried his level best to sabotage working of PTA by bringing more people of his stance to the organization and promoted the agenda of his principals in government i.e. auctioning of 3G licenses as soon as possible. He even hired foreign consultants for 3G spectrum auction which was also done in violation of rules and regulations.
Farooq Awan’s appointment and the consequent actions he took for initiation of 3G spectrum auction in the country were fully backed and supported by Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. Many a times and in many committees were these actions condemned and the responsible people informed to refrain from going against the law but they took no heed.
His appointment was in direct violation of the Telecom Act 1996 and PEPRA regulations and so the court took notice, barred him from performing his duties without consent of the other two members and when that failed, court ordered his termination from the post of Chairman PTA. Though he filed an intra-court appeal in January regarding his termination but it had not gone anywhere when as a last desperate attempt to put their pawn in the game, Cabinet Division, after approval from the Prime Minster house, appointed Farooq Awan as acting Chairman of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority on February 24, 2013. The temporary appointment was done under the pretense to be for the tenure when PTA was hiring new members as the existing members had finished their legal tenure.
As before, even this temporary appointment is in violation of the rules and regulations and taking notice of the actions, court yet again barred Farooq Awan from discharging his duties on March 7, 2013.
All of these games and power tussle have been for the sole purpose of getting 3G spectrum to be auctioned which is expected to generate revenue of more than a billion dollars. The government was (and still is) desperate to compensate for its budget deficiency, pay back loan from IMF and most importantly have “3G launch” in their portfolio so that they could cash it in the future elections. Sources also confirm that behind the scenes this auction had been rigged beforehand. Some important people with influential support at the back were supposed to win the auction.
As we have mentioned in a previous article, the government and other political parties need to understand is that auctioning of 3G spectrum is a technical issue and should be handled as such. It is not to be dragged into politics and used for personal nefarious gains otherwise the consequences could be dire.
Example of 3G spectrum auction in our neighbor country India is in front of us. The auction was so rigged that the court had to take action against corrupt behavior of everyone involved, felling the ax on innocent participants as well. Foreign licenses were cancelled and A Raja, the Telecom Minister along with CEOs of responsible Telecom companies thrown into jail and forced to pay fine.
Telecom sector in our country is already like a child with broken dreams and hopes. It needs assurance from the government and steps that would make it stand up on its feet and grow in a healthy environment. Already the suspension of mobile services on important occasions and festivals in Pakistan has caused the Telcos to suffer a lot and yet more is being demanded of them. A single day of services’ suspension does not hinder the terrorist activities much but very harshly effects Telcos who lose millions of rupees in a day, in addition to tarnishing our country’s reputation in front of foreign investors. These have been the reasons why the years 2010 to 2012 have been the worst in history of telecom sector investment.
We have already seen the privatization of PTCL in leadership of Abdul Hafeez Shaikh where after such a long time, government is still waiting payment of $800 million from Etisalat for buying shares in PTCL. Government has tried its best to make Pakistan Telecommunication Authority another public sector organization like Wapda and Railway but luckily for telecom sector, it has failed due to stand of a few rule-following, key position holders in the regulatory authority and swift and decisive actions of judicial body of the country.
We hope that the caretaker government and that following the elections takes special care of telecom sector and allows it to grow in a healthy and prosperous environment. However, if elections are delayed and present government is allowed to stay any longer due to any “unforeseen circumstances”, future of the already weakening regulatory authority and staggering sector seems somber.