Government’s priorities shuffle as politics heats up
By: Farooq Baloch
KARACHI: The abrupt departure of Farooq Awan from the chairmanship of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has created a vacuum within the telecom regulatory body, which most likely, cannot be filled anytime soon.
The rising political unrest in the federal capital and Supreme Court’s verdict on the rental power project case, on the other hand, has hammered the final nail in the coffin for the third generation (3G) mobile spectrum technology rollout under the present government.
The ongoing sit-in protest by Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran chief Tahirul Qadri and the apex court’s order regarding the arrest of the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf have become the focus of all attention for the Pakistan People’s Party-led government, said PTA Member Finance Nasrul Karim Ghaznavi. Appointment of PTA’s new chairman, even 3G auctions has, therefore, gone down the priority list.
Even if the government makes it through the current political crises, auctioning 3G licences will still be an uphill task.
Farooq Awan was terminated on Tuesday while Ghaznavi’s and Member Technical Khawar Khokhar’s appointment terms will expire in a month. This leaves PTA in an awful scenario where 3G proliferation does not seem to be a possibility for the present government.
The prime minister, according to sources, had already rejected Khokhar’s request for an extension. Ghaznavi, too, had built differences at the highest level by opposing Awan’s decision to hire 3G consultants against the law. Being the most senior member, Ghaznavi can take the additional charge of authority’s chairmanship as per the Act. However, he had not been notified yet if he was going to take that charge, Ghaznavi told The Express Tribune.
There were strong signs that none of the two members will get extensions. The government wanted a complete restructuring of PTA, which failed to auction 3G licenses despite several attempts, an official said.
“We need an entire new team of talented and professional people; restructuring of PTA is, therefore, a must,” the official said. By contrast, it was not practical for the government to complete the 3G process through restructuring of the PTA – that is by hiring new members.
The hunt for new members cannot be started till Ghaznavi and Khokhar complete their terms – for which the government will have to wait until March.
On the other hand, if it starts the process for hiring new members in March, it will take them about three to four months to meet the formalities – a summary is sent to the PM for his approval, the post is advertised, candidates are shortlisted and interviewed before a member is appointed.
With new members appointed, PTA – if rules are followed – will need another four to six months for 3G auction, by then the present government will have completed its five-year tenure and be long gone, if elections are held according to schedule.
Farooq Awan, now the defunct chairman of PTA, may have to pay Martin Sims, Rob Nicholls and Dennis Ward – the 3G consultants whose contracts were terminated by PTA in December – from his personal account in case of a law suit.
The three consultants recently told The Express Tribune that they were not seeking legal options against PTA for breach of contract. Instead, they wanted to find a middle ground where they get paid for the services they already delivered and Pakistan gets 3G.
This development, however, may change the equation. The government is not going to make any payment to those consultants, a PTA official said. It was clarified by National Assembly’s Select Committee on IT and Telecom, he said.
Barjees Tahir, the head of the committee, had clarified that Awan had to pay the consultants from his own pocket since it was Awan’s decision to appoint them for which he did not seek consensus from other members, the official said. Awan himself had told the committee that he had powers to appoint them, he added.