ISLAMABAD, Oct: 3: After the case of alleged Rs47 billion tax evasion by cellular companies the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology got another shock on Wednesday when it was informed that telecom and internet service providers had defaulted on Rs26 billion payable to the Universal Services Fund.

Members of the committee headed by Birjees Tahir, who have been trying to improve the USF operations for several years, asked officials of the ministry of information technology why this information had not been provided to the committee earlier.The USF was set up by the IT ministry to work for developing telecommunication services in un-served and under-served areas in the country. The fund consisted of 1.5 per cent of adjusted revenue as contribution by licensed telecom operators with no government funding involved.

Since 2004 the USF has an accumulated Rs42 billion which the legislators believe was not utilised in greater national interest. The defaulted Rs26 billion is the access promotion contribution the telecom and internet service providing companies owed to the USF.

The committee accepted a suggestion of Anusha Rehman of PML-N and recommended to the IT ministry to prevent the defaulter telecom or internet service from bidding in future contracts.

Ms Rehman told Dawn that the government was not paying attention to an enabling sector. According to her, there are thousands of university graduates who are finding better opportunities outside Pakistan.

Birjees Tahir urged a sub-committee headed by Ms Rehman, which has been investigating the problem of grey traffic, to look into the payment default. He said the IT ministry had become dysfunctional because it had been without a minister for four and a half years.

“With eight to nine secretaries replaced and all its departments missing permanent heads the ministry was less likely to survive,” he said.

SPAM: With laws and regulations in place to control ‘obnoxious’ text messages, members of the standing committee severely criticised the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the IT ministry for their failure to curb spam messaging.

“We need the help of the members to strengthen the regulators to implement laws against excessive spam,” said PTA Chairman Farooq Ahmad Khan. He suggested that more than three spam messages sent by a person should be declared an offensive.Nosheen Saeed and other members told the PTA chief that they received irritating random texts even in the middle of the night.

“Why there is no check on cellular operators who offer free message services after midnight?” she asked and described it as an unhealthy activity for children.

Speaking to Dawn after the meeting, Anusha Rehman said failure to implement laws to protect interests of people reflected lack of interest and commitment of the departments concerned.

She said a law was already there to block SIMS generating more than three spam messages.

A mechanism should be put in place to identify spam messages in cooperation with cellular companies and the PTA. “A record is already being maintained of the number of SIMS issued against a computerised national identity card (CNIC). All SIMS issued against a CNIC generating more than three spam messages should be blocked and no more SIMS be issued against that identity card,” said Anusha Rehman.

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