National Accountability Bureau smells rat in 3G licence auction process
By: Syed Irfan Raza
ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has raised questions about the process being adopted for auctioning 3G licences in the country.
“The NAB finds hiring of consultants for 3G/4G Spectrum (modern cellular phone technology) licences’ auction not in line with the Pakistan Procurement Regulatory Authority rules,” NAB spokesman Zafar Iqbal said on Thursday.
He said NAB had advised the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to ensure adherence to the PPRA rules.
In a letter, NAB asked the Ministry of Information Technology to give a presentation to NAB chairman Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari on Jan 1 on the issues of General Sales Tax evasion on Smart Messaging Service, Universal Services Fund, e-governance and auction of the broadband frequency.
Third-Generation, commonly known as 3G spectrum, is a latest technology in cellular phone service that provides facilities of mobile TV, video-conferencing, tele-medicine, location-based services, video on demand, etc., and hiring of consultants is said to be mandatory for auctioning the licences.
Asked which PPRA rules had been violated in hiring of consultants, a NAB official said they were hired without meeting the required criteria and without advertising the posts in national dailies.
NAB has identified tax evasion by cellular companies because of absence of forensic auditing and facility of interlinking exchanges. It has also asked the ministry to clarify violation of rules by cellular companies for charging 19.5 per cent GST on SMS.
The spokesman said NAB was trying to ensure transparency and fair play in the tendering process of projects, auction and procurements in close coordination with the regulators. “The exercise is aimed at strengthening the regulatory mechanism.”
Meanwhile, a National Assembly standing committee directed the PTA to hold a meeting as soon as possible to resolve the issue of hiring consultants so that the auction process could be completed in a transparent manner.
The committee criticised the Auction Supervisory Committee (ASC) for causing delay in the 3G auction process and recommended that the mandate of auction be limited to the PTA for smooth functioning and effective accountability.
Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said that the PTA was competent to hire short-term consultants without seeking any approval and it was their mandate under the rules. “There has been nothing to hide and now this decision could be scrutinised as nothing has been intended to hide in this regard,” he added.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, he said, had constituted a ministerial committee under Law Minister Farooq H. Naek which would meet next week all stakeholders, including NAB, PAC, parliamentary committees, provincial anti-corruption departments, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Competition Commission of Pakistan, court registrars, and trade associations to evolve a strategy on the issue.
Last week, the PTA signed an integrity pact with Transparency International Pakistan to ensure transparency in the 3G auction process.