IT ministry spends unapproved Rs120m on political, media campaigns
Hina Mahgul Rind
KARACHI: Ministry of Information Technology (IT) has spent an unapproved Rs120 million from the Universal Service Fund (USF) on political advertisements and media campaigns, projecting the achievements of the government in IT and telecom sector, according to ISPs Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) convener Wahaj us Siraj.
The USF serves the purpose of exclusively providing access to telecommunication services to people in the un-served, under-served, rural and remote areas and other expenditure to be made and incurred by the federal government in managing USF.
Siraj said, “We have written letters to the secretary IT and Telecom and the minister for IT regarding the huge spending of Rs120 million out of USF on media campaigns- projecting achievements of the government- in the last two months”.
“This amount was spent without any budget allocation and approval of the Board of Directors of USF,” Siraj said, adding that competitive bidding procedure and Public Procurement Rules during the award of this contract to a single advertisement agency were also not followed.
He said that now the USF Company is being pressurised by the Ministry of IT to pay the bills of the media campaign.
Siraj said that licensed telecom operators are the sole contributors to the USF with a contribution of 1.5 percent of their gross annual revenues. “Spending this fund for the purpose contrary to the statutory provisions is not only a violation of the law but also shatters the confidence of telecom operators who have earnestly paid billions of rupees in USF contribution,” he said.
A USF official, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that this amount has been spent on media campaign. However, he said, that the board had approved this expenditure. He said that the decision was taken to create awareness about the achievements done in the IT and telecom sector among the masses.
The official further said that this was the first time that Rs120million had been spent on advertisement.
The News has learnt that despite the USF official’s claim that the board had approved the expenditure on campaign; the signatory process has not yet been carried out by the Chairman USF.
ISPAK has demanded the government of Pakistan and MOIT to take immediate steps to stop wasteful and illegal spending of USF on media advertisement for political gains, and has asked for details of spending to be presented to the board of directors of USF Company.
Adil Gilani of Transparency International said the utilisation of USF has been defined in the Section 33(B)(2) of Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organisation) (Amendment) Act, 2005.
“If the allegations are correct that Rs120 million has been spent to make payments for media campaigns by Ministry of IT for projection of achievements of government in IT and telecom section, the expenditure is illegal under the Laws of Pakistan, unless the Act had been amended to allow such expenses,” Gilani said.
The award of contract to an advertising agency without open tendering is also against Public Procurement Rules 2004, he said.