More dubious links emerge in 3G Pakistan Telecommunication Authority scandal
By: Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: The recent controversial appointment of chairman PTA, the removal of CEO of the extremely wealthy Universal Service Fund (USF) and his replacement by the son of a close confidante of the top-most rulers and the appointment of member law in the Ministry of Information Technology — all these administrative changes make the auction of 3G Spectrum extremely controversial in the present scenario.
The validity of the appointments of Chairman PTA Farooq Ahmad Awan and the removal of CEO USF Ashar Siddiqui are already under scrutiny of the superior judiciary.
The expected $1-2 billion money to be fetched from the 3G auction may go to the USF whose present chief executive officer is Dr Basit Sheikh, who is the son of Riaz Ahmad Shaikh — the man removed from the position of additional DG FIA and convicted by the Supreme Court in the NRO case. Dr Basit is also an adviser to the Ministry of IT.
Recently, Kamran Ali, ex-DG Law PTA, was appointed as member law in the IT Ministry. He was also given the additional charge of the chairman of the National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC).
It is interesting to note that Chairman PTA Farooq Awan, Adviser-cum-CEO USF Dr Basit Shaikh and Member Law Ministry of IT Kamran Ali were the key players in the finalisation of processes for the auction of 3G Spectrum. These three men, besides others, were also present in the meeting chaired by the prime minister, who continues to hold the charge of the minister of IT, at his official residence on Monday, Dec 10th.
Such is the relevance of PTA in this affair that two of its members have already said that they are not in the loop and were not even consulted in the appointment of consultants. In the Dec 10 meeting, while the two members were pressurised to give approval to the Information Memorandum (IM), the presentation on the 3G auction was given by none from the PTA but by Dr Basit Shaikh.
The sources said that while the member technical and member finance were not in picture in the appointment of consultants, hired by the PTA chairman, it was Dr Basit Shaikh who had actually chosen the three foreign consultants for the PTA to finalise the processes for 3G auction.
Under the law, it is the sole responsibility of PTA in term of section 5(2)(r) and 4(e) of the Telecom Act to carry out this auction in a transparent, open, and competitive manner to realise maximum revenue for the citizens of Pakistan.
The PTA should do this job without any interference, fear, pressure and getting influenced by neither the government nor any entity. All tasks and milestones involved in this process are required to be approved by all the members of the authority. Unfortunately, the sources said, the auction process is progressing in a manipulated manner following extreme interference from the Ministry of Information Technology.
The regulator — PTA — is an independent entity and must function without any influence and pressure from the political government. But, it is alleged that the PTA has been captured by the ruling political elite through controversial appointment of chairman PTA, who along with Adviser MoIT Dr Basit Riaz Sheikh, is working to materialise the auction.
Some sources in the PTA say that the funds generated out of this auction would go to USF fund as per the section 33A-(4)(c) of Telecom Act. Ashar Siddiqui has reportedly informed the courts that he has been removed for not acceding to the IT Ministry’s illegal demand for the allocation of fund for the ruling PPP government’s publicity campaign. Very recently, the scandal involving an advertising agency was highlighted in the press and electronic media following which the Supreme Court took suo moto action and issued notices to Secretary MoIT, Secretary Ministry of Broadcasting and Ashar Siddiqui who was controversially removed from the post of CEO USF fund due to his refusal to obey the alleged illegal orders of the IT secretary. Currently, the USF fund is said to be possessing Rs55 billion. While Dr Basit is the present CEO of USF, its chairman is the prime minister, who is also the minister of IT.
The sources insist that the auctioning of 3G Spectrum is the sole responsibility of PTA while the federal government, only with approval of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), can issue a policy directive to the PTA in terms of section 8(2) of the PTA Act but the policy directive should not be ultra vires to the provisions of the act and also should not be undermining the power and role of the PTA in the auction process.
It is said that the policy directive issued by the federal government created a body called Auction Supervisory Committee (ASC) to control and influence the PTA in the auction process. This supervisory committee and the Ministry of IT are seen as uncalled interferers.
It is said that the setting up of ASC with MoIT convener is tantamount to government’s interference in the PTA. Questions are being raised if the government could pressurise the independent regulator and specify timeline of auction and instruct PTA to complete the process within that specified timeline.
While the government and the chairman PTA hold the member technical responsible for the delay, there are some in the PTA who believe that the auction has already been delayed due to interference of MoIT and ASC. One source said that to prove this point correspondence between the PTA and MoIT and the minutes of the ASC could be produced before any independent forum.