ISLAMABAD: The auction of 3G and 4G licences has hit snags just two weeks before going under the hammer.
To the shock of the Ministry of Information Technology, the Senate Standing Committee on Thursday recommended stopping the auction, as according to its members it would be ‘illegal’.
The recommendation from the committee changed the mood of the meeting completely.
Visibly annoyed by the recommendations, which came in the last 15 minutes, the Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman walked off when media persons threw questions at her after the meeting.
The Senate committee chairman Mohammad Idrees Khan Safi asked the ministry to first appoint member compliance and enforcement in the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and then go for the auction.
He believed that any action/activity carried out without filling the post would be ‘illegal’ including the 3G and 4G auction, scheduled to be held on April 23, 2014.
The position in the three-member Authority has been lying vacant for long.
The other members are the chairman and member finance. The Cabinet Division had last advertised to fill the seat in June 2013.
“We recommend to the ministry of information technology to stop the auction until the vacant position is filled or else explain under what law the PTA is holding the auction when just two members are in the office,” Senator Mohammad Idrees Khan Safi said during the meeting.
He gave the ministry seven days to bring the auction in line with the PTA rules, a clear reference to filling the vacant member’s post and formed a three-member sub-committee to assist the state minister in fulfilling legal requirements for holding the auction.
Nonetheless, State Minister for Ministry of IT Anusha Rehman reminded the Chair that the Committee could only make recommendations.
Confronting the committee chairman, the minister said it could not bind the ministry to stop the auction.
“We will go ahead with the sale of the licences as per schedule,” said Anusha Rehman.
Looked offended by the response from the state minister the chairman reminded Anusha Rehman again that the auction without filling the post would be illegal under the law.
The law clearly states that the authority cannot take decisions of national interest unless all three top posts are filled, he maintained.
Despite requests from Senator Mohammad Mohsin Khan Leghari who wanted to learn more about the auction, the chairman of the committee did not permit the IT minister to give the presentation, which the ministry had prepared for the members of the committee.
However, Secretary Ministry of IT Akhlaq Ahmad Tarar explained to the committee that following the Supreme Court orders, the member’s post was temporarily filled by giving additional charge to secretary ministry of law and justice.
Candidates had been shortlisted and permanent member compliance would be selected soon.
Chairman PTA Dr Syed Ismail Shah also explained that PTA Reorganization Act 1996 allows the Authority to function with two members in office.
“It’s not illegal. The auction for 2G licences in 2004 was held by the then PTA chairman, General Shahzada Alam in a similar fashion with two members in office,” Dr Ismail Shah said trying to pacify the members.
Senator Faisal Raza Abidi was unwilling to buy the explanation given by the secretary IT or chairman PTA.
“The auction process will only be held when PTA has all three permanent members in office to run the authority,” he asserted.
Senator Rehman Malik echoed along similar lines when he said, “We are not trying to create hurdles but it is imperative that legal requirements are to be fulfilled before the auction is held to avoid complications later.”
Senator Malik Mohammad Rafique Rajwana was the only member who objected to the recommendation of the committee, which, in his opinion, would send a bad message to the international community.
“The senate standing committee has exercised its right to make recommendations, which cannot be taken as order,” said Senator Rafique Rajwana.
The arguments from both sides continued for more than two hours until a conclusion was reached that the ministry would prove that PTA was following rules and regulations even with just two members managing the affairs at the top level.