ISLAMABAD: Cellular service provider, Mobilink, told a parliamentary panel on Wednesday that it has closed off several dozen franchises and laid off employees following all the regulatory approvals for its merger with Warid Telecom.

The company was questioned by the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology about terminating the contracts of 263 franchises after it merged with Warid earlier this year.

Several franchise owners registered complaints with the committee against the telecommunications company for violating franchise agreements and discriminating against them.

The secretary general of the All Pakistan Telecom Franchises Association, Naeemul Haq, told the committee that Mobilink discriminated against Warid franchises by retaining the vast majority of Mobilink franchises.

“Mobilink terminated franchise agreements without prior notice as required under the agreements. It is offering settlement terms that are blatantly illegal, unfair and divorced from market terms.

“The cellular company has also refused to return ledgers and records belonging to the franchises until those aggrieved waive their legal rights,” Mr Haq said.

He informed the committee that franchise owners made large investments under agreements with Mobilink by hiring staff and renting and maintaining premises, and had invested heavily in the market.

Speaking on behalf of other franchise owners, Mr Haq demanded a fair severance package for franchises that were not retained, based on a reasonable estimate of the market value of each terminated franchise.

However, a Mobilink representative told the committee that it did not make a business case to retain all 675 franchises after the merger when 400 were sufficient.

Mobilink’s chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer Syed Ali Naseer Ahmad told the committee that Mobilink owned 350 franchises to cater to its four million plus subscribers, while Warid had nearly 330 to cater to the needs of one million customers.

“Some 100 franchise owners have already agreed to the terms offered by Mobilink. As many as 60 have parted ways amicably,” Mr Ahmad added.

The franchise owners’ case seemed to have weakened when a few members of the committee suggested the Senate committee was interfering in private disputes.

Senators such as PPPP’s Osman Saifullah and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Shibli Faraz argued that the merger between Mobilink and Warid was a private commercial deal and not the committee’s concern, while others, such as PPPP senators Farhatullah Babar, Rehman Malik and Rubina Khalid urged the committee chairman to help the franchise owners on humanitarian grounds.

“As long as the quality of services and the availability of SIMs are not compromised, the committee cannot question the cellular company on its contract agreements with franchises,” Mr Saifullah said.

However, Ms Khalid said the private company dealt with the public and it was the committee’s responsibility to watch over the public’s interest.

Committee chairman Awami National Party Senator Shahi Syed directed Mobilink and the franchise owners to settle the matter amicably rather than resorting to court battles that would take a long time to settle the matter.

Both sides were asked to report their progress at the next committee meeting.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2017

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