Prime Minister has no time for USF meeting

ISLAMABAD: Universal Service Fund (USF) promotes the development of telecommunication services in un-served and under-served far-flung areas of the country but government failed to release more than Rs10 billion to the telecom sectors as the prime minister did not approve the budget, sources revealed on Saturday.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Prime Minister Secretariat had cancelled a meeting of the board of directors of USF more than five times. This happened because Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is also minister-in-charge of Information Technology, is chairman of the board of directors. The prime minister does not have time to chair a board meeting and repeated requests to delegate his powers to the secretary Information Technology have been turned down.

According to details, all funds are contributed by the telecom operators without any financial assistance from the government. Universal Service Fund (USF) has an independent board of directors equally balanced between four members from the government and four from the private sector.

On the other hand, CEOs of telecom operators have showed their anguish over delaying of USF projects and they cautioned that this attitude of the government may cause one million job losses. The meeting is held every month but the last August 13 meeting was not held due to engagement of the prime minister. The USF is not able to provide services to the far-flung areas and complete the ongoing projects in time.

Recently, USF awarded optic fibre project in northern Balochistan. Optic fibre connectivity will be provided to 12 tehsil headquarters and eight other towns and a population of around 2.1 million people will benefit from this project. Around 40 percent of the total USF subsidy for all USF projects is being provided for projects in Balochistan. More than 500 small schemes designed for providing basic telecom services in more than 12,000 ‘un-served and under-served remote’ villages and small towns in over 85 tehsils have been stalled, and work on almost an equal number of schemes could not be taken up.

This attitude of the prime minister will lead to confrontation among the USF and telecom operators and affect the development of IT, telecom sector which is one of the most developed sectors of the country.

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