While earmarking 10 MHz cellular spectrum to state-owned Special Communication Organisation (SCO), the people at the helm of affairs in top regulatory body – Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) – have allegedly dented the national kitty with a loss of around $10 million, creating apprehensions in the market about fair competition and level playing field in the public sector.
TLTP has reliably learnt that without identifying conflict of interest, the ousted government of Imran Khan approved the appointment of Major General (retd) Aamir Azeem Bajwa as PTA chairman in sheer violation of superior court verdict, due process and relevant provisions of law. Prior to his appointment as chairman of the PTA, he served for 2 years as head of a telecom licensee, which professionally led to conflict of interest.
A bare perusal of the law ‘Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act, 1996’ reveals that it bars any such appointment. Section 3 of the Act provides that a person to be considered for appointment as a member, PTA must not even have a hint of conflict between his private interest and the interest of the institution (public interest).
The Section 3 (4) of the Act provides: “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.
It has also been mentioned clearly in explanation of the sub-section: “For the purpose of this subsection, any involvement of the spouse or blood relation of any member of the Authority with any telecommunication establishment or firm shall be considered as a direct financial interest or connection of the member with such establishment or firm.”
The SCO, which the current chairman PTA headed just before his appointment, is a fully government-owned organisation under the administrative control of the Ministry of IT & Telecommunications as per Schedule II Rule 3(3) of Rules of Business 1973. The PTA has granted license to the SCO to operate a commercial telecom business in AJK and GB in order to provide service to more than 1.8 million people of the vicinities.
The PTA’s decision to effectively gift a spectrum to one of the licensees, SCO, has raised eyebrows in the industry as there exists an alleged conflict of interest between the incumbent PTA chairman and the SCO as he remained director general of the SCO for two years. Soon after his retirement from the SCO, Imran Khan’ government appointed him as Member (Technical) PTA and a week after being appointed member, he was elevated to the post of chairman PTA.
In 2013, while deciding the Writ Petition No. 29005 of 2012, the Lahore High Court’s Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah declared appointment of the then Chairman PTA Farooq Ahmed Awan illegal on the grounds of conflict of interest as Awan had served as secretary IT as well as chairman of the PTCL Board prior to joining PTA.
Reliable sources disclosed to TLTP that the incumbent chairman of the PTA remains a pensioner and financial beneficiary of SCO and has a strong affiliation with it. At the time he headed the state-run teleco. He competed for market share with private operators. In March 2018, under his command, the SCO went so far as to sue the PTA in an aggressive bid to establish its monopoly over the telecom market in AJK and GB. Telenor was compelled to join the move. As the contested case – SCO vs the government of Pakistan and PTA (W.P. 3291/2018) adjudication is pending in Islamabad High Court.
All regulatory decisions are taken by the Authority comprising of three Members after fulfilling the codal formalities on equal opportunity basis subject to completion of all requirements for grant of license etc, PTA
Responding to TLTP over the story, the PTA spokesperson Khurram Ali Mehran said in an email message on Tuesday, “ The assertions made in the article including the point regarding conflict of interest are vehemently denied being baseless and frivolous. All regulatory decisions are taken by the Authority comprising of three Members after fulfilling the codal formalities on equal opportunity basis subject to completion of all requirements for grant of license etc. All spectrum issuance and allied licensing is done under the policy directive of the Federal Government and in line with the PTA Reorganization ACT (1996). As mentioned in your article the case W.P 3291/2-18 is sub judice in IHC so no further comments can be provided”.
The writer heads a leading news wire service ‘The Law Today Pakistan’ commonly known as TLTP. He has a special focus on news relating to superior courts adjudication, access to right of information, civil, political, social and economic rights under the approach that existing cyber regime realization ensures procedural fairness in administrative law. He can be reached at email@example.com