Two bold directors defy PM, others on $2 bn 3G auction issue
By: Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: Two courageous directors of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) refused to become a part of what they said was a non-transparent multi-billion dollar 3G Spectrum auction process and they did so at the highest policymaking forum, a meeting at the PM House chaired by the prime minister himself on Monday.
At the crucial meeting attended by all concerned to immediately finalise the processes for $1-2 billion auction of 3G spectrum, two most relevant key members of the PTA refused to become part of any dubious deal.
Sources said that two of the three members of the PTA — Member Technical Dr Khawar Siddique Khokhar and Member Finance Nasrul Karim Ghaznavi — were pressurised and even scolded by the meeting participants but both of them flatly refused to be a part of any such deal that lacks transparency and violates the law and rules.
Besides the prime minister, those who attended the meeting included chairman and two members of the PTA, the finance minister, minister for water and power, secretary information technology, adviser information technology, senior officials of the planning commission, principal secretary to the prime minister and others.
The meeting wanted Khokhar and Ghaznavi to approve the Information Memorandum (IM) prepared by the three consultants who were hired without their consent and in violation of PPRA rules.
Notwithstanding all pressures to get their immediate approval, Khokhar and Ghaznavi sought time and insisted that the decision of such matters should be left to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority as per the law and rules. The authority, which has to give sanctions to the auction processes comprises of Chairman PTA and two members- Member Technical and Member Finance.
Sources told The News that three foreign consultants also participated in the discussion during the meeting at the PM House through media conference and sought the approval of the authority- the Chairman and members of the PTA- for the Information Memorandum prepared by them. The Information Memorandum is the document that contains the proposed auction schedule and terms and conditions for the auction.
The sources said that both the Members, Khokhar and Ghaznavi, said that they were neither kept in the loop in the hiring of the consultants nor were they taken into confidence about the processes being adopted for this auction.
Adviser on IT Dr Basit, who is son of former Additional DG FIA Ahmad Riaz Shaikh, briefed the meeting about the auction processes and observed that the members should not take much time to give their approval to the proposed Information Memorandum.
There was a clash of words between the Chairman PTA and the two Members, which at one stage saw the prime minister losing his cool and telling the Member Technical that he lacks etiquette.
Chairman PTA raised the question that Khokhar’s educational degrees were still unverified, to which the Member technical said that it is for his employer to verify his degrees. The member finance who felt undue coercion told the meeting that he was twice victimised and suspended but got exonerated both by the FPSC and the judiciary.
He said he would require time to study the Information Memorandum and also hinted that he should do his job or answer the queries of the FIA. The chairman and members of the PTA are appointed for a tenure post and the government has no authority to remove them prematurely.
However, a source who talked to these two senior officers after the meeting told The News that both feel harassed and fear they might be picked up by the FIA anytime. On Monday, The News revealed the controversy over serious rift within the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority over the validity and legality of the consultants hired by the PTA chairman for the auction of 3G spectrum.
In his letter written to principal secretary to the pm, the cabinet secretary, secretary information technology, chairman PTA and others, the PTA Member Technical, Dr Khokhar had revealed that the recent appointment of three consultants on hefty salaries ($700,000 – about Rs70m) is in violation of the PPRA rules and without the knowledge of the authority.
He conveyed to all concerned that these hiring involved violation of Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 as well as the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) Rules, 2004.
The letter showed that both the members of authority, including member finance and member technical were not part of this decision making. Chairman PTA Farooq Awan, however, insisted that it is the chairman’s power to appoint consultants without referring the matter to the authority.
The PTA chairman when approached confirmed that his member technical had objected to the appointment of the consultant for 3G auction but insisted that the member is ignorant about the facts of the case.
Chairman Farooq Awan said that under the PTA Act the chairman had the authority to appoint advisors/ consultant without consulting the authority. Secondly, he said that these appointments do not involve any violation of PPRA rules.
On Monday, in his written comments sent to The News, the chairman had stated that the member technical was opposed to the hiring of any consultant for the assignment and claimed it was the function of the authority and as a result implementation of the policy directive issued in Dec 20111 for 3G licensing by the ministry of IT, was badly delayed.
Later, he said, it was approved by the authority to initiate the process but it was scrapped due to flawed evaluation by the PTA evaluation committee headed by member technical in May 2012.
Subsequently, in August 2012, another process was initiated and the same evaluation committee again rejected all the bids being non responsive. Later, a high level government committee met on Nov 6, 2012 and decided to hire individual experts having international expertise and scrapped the previous process.
“It may be noted that the said recruitment for position of three consultants was neither required to be done under PPRA Rules nor it was done. Therefore, the applicability of PPRA Rules or any violation thereof hence is out of question. The said hiring was done within the ambit of PTA Act., and Regulations,” the chairman’s comments read.