With the government once again facing the task of appointing the leadership for the telecom sector’s regulatory body, the industry – despite keeping its fingers crossed on whether the ambitious target can be achieved – is hopeful that the latest ruling by the apex court is a step in the right direction.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan, on Monday, directed the government to appoint members and chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) within 10 days. It also ordered the government to auction third generation (3G) mobile spectrum licenses in two months following the appointment of the authority’s chairman.
The auction process requires 90 days, if the rules are to be followed, said an official. If the government bypasses the rules, like it did in the past, the new appointments will likely be challenged again, he said. It is, therefore, not possible to hold the auction in a month or two.
In terms of Rule 13 of the Public Procurement Rules 2004, the minimum response time shall not be less than 15 days for national competitive bidding and 30 days for international competitive bedding – this doesn’t include the time required for short listing of bidders and candidates as well as the interview process.
The auction may not be held in a couple of months but the Supreme Court’s ruling is a step in the right direction as it will expedite the process, a telecom official said. For the last one year or so, there has been a lot of uncertainty and controversy regarding the appointment of PTA’s chairman and the 3G auction, he said. This will now end as the Supreme Court has come up with clear instructions on the subject this time, he said.
PTA has been almost dysfunctional after member technical and member finance completed their tenure earlier this year. This was followed by the Lahore High Court’s removal of former chairman Farooq Awan, following a petition declaring his appointment illegal.
The government has advertised the aforesaid posts of members of PTA in the past but the appointees were challenged for one reason or the other.
The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz government also advertised for the post one month into the government but that too was challenged in the Lahore High Court.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, according to industry sources, will certainly resume and even expedite the 3G process. Experts however asked the PTA to take a careful approach on the subject this time.
“We should learn from previous mistakes while auctioning the 3G spectrum,” said a former government official and an expert on 3G technology. “In the past, the government auctioned some on spectrum keeping 2G in mind at a time when 3G technology was already available,” he said.
Although that helped the government get two new players in the form of Telenor and Warid, but it came at some cost, he said. “Since these and other companies invested a lot in 2G/GSM, they were reluctant to deploy 3G quickly,” the official said.
The previous government was repeating this mistake as they were obsessed with bringing a new operator, the official said. Citing the example of Bangladesh, which is holding the 3G spectrum auction on September 8, he said, “Although the competition [in Bangladesh] is open, only existing operators have applied, so we should also leave it to the market forces.”
The official suggested that the government should auction 30MHz of spectrum in the 3G band, along with 30MHz of spectrum in the 1800MHz band. The 1800MHz band should be exclusively for 4G/LTE, he said.
Responding to a question about the restructuring of PTA and getting rid of incompetent officials in the IT ministry who are responsible for hurting the industry’s progress, he said, “While we may have to wait for ‘operation clean up’, which may not happen at all, we should at least get things going.”