Lahore High Court bars chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority from performing his duty
By: Hina Mahgul Rind
KARACHI: A Lahore High Court judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, while hearing a writ petition on Monday which challenged the appointment of chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Farooq Awan, passed an interim order restraining the chairman from performing his duty without the approval of two members of the authority till the next hearing on 15th January, 2013.
There are certain powers taken by the authority, i.e. majority of its three members and there are other administrative and operational powers that rest with the chairman himself.
The appointment of chairman PTA was challenged in the LHC under the section 3(4) of Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organisation) Act, 1996 that states: “a member of the Authority shall not have any direct or indirect financial interest in, or have business connection with any person, any establishment or firm which renders telecommunication services in Pakistan or abroad or supplies telecommunication equipment to any telecommunication sector in Pakistan or abroad.”
The petitioner Khawaja Saad Saleem submitted that Farooq Awan, just prior to his appointment as chairman PTA, received a sum of $24,000 (approx. Rs2 million) in his capacity as chairman of PTCL’s board of directors, while serving as the secretary ministry of information technology.
Secretary IT ministry is the ex-officio chairman of board of PTCL to safeguard the interest of the Government of Pakistan, which is a majority shareholder of PTCL, management control and 26 percent shares of which were sold to Etisalat in 2005.
A document available with The News shows that PTCL’s board of directors in its 157th meeting held on 7th September, 2011 approved the raise in fees for attending one board meeting to $8,000 for the chairman and $5,000 for each director. The minutes of meeting reveal that Dr. Syed Ismail Shah, a member of board and currently serving as a member telecom IT ministry, opposed the idea of increase in fees in view of PTCL’s declining revenues, but the resolution was passed with the majority vote. Interestingly, Dr. Ismail Shah was suspended and sent on forced leave in June 2012 by Farooq Awan during Awan’s tenure as the secretary IT, and later reinstated after the orders of the Islamabad High Court.
The petitioner also submitted that Farooq Awan was first appointed as a member of PTA while acting as chairman board of PTCL and then appointed as chairman of PTA overnight in contravention of the Telecom Act which clearly states that no member of PTA will have any business connection with any provider of services in telecom industry.
The Income Tax deduction record of PTCL show that Awan, while being in full time service of Government of Pakistan in BPS-21, received payment in excess of Rs2.3 million from PTCL for the period of February to July 2012 on account of chairing at least three meetings of the board, all in Islamabad.
The petitioner stated that chairman of PTA had a direct financial interest and business connection with PTCL during the current year, in which he was appointed as a member of PTA as well as its chairman and direct pecuniary benefit he received in the process jeopardised the ability of PTA to discharge its statutory duties in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner.
Khawaja Saleem further submitted that entire consultation and appointment process of Farooq Awan as not just member of PTA but also its chairman was completed within a record time of four days, without any competition and advertisement of post in violation of the policy of the cabinet division, and the public office holders who have participated in exercising state authority to appoint Farooq Awan as member and chairman of PTA had not followed the due process of the law in making such appointment and had not even discharged their duty to document the reasons for their decision and the considerations they bore in mind while reaching such decision.