ISLAMABAD: Taking advantage of the absence of many ruling party members, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology approved a proposal to allow the military-run Special Communication Organisation (SCO) to operate commercially and compete with the private telecom operators.

This was in strong contrast to the opposition by the government and the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology.

“This committee directs the Ministry of IT to facilitate SCO,” said chairperson of the committee, MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi of the MQM. The committee met for a briefing on the performance of the SCO.

The support for the SCO came after its regulatory affairs director retired Col Ghulam Hussain Anjum pleaded the case to allow the organisation to operate as a commercial entity.

Govt and Senate committee on IT have already opposed move to give free hand to SCO to compete with private telecom companies

For the last two years, the SCO has been demanding autonomy to operate commercially and expand its services across the country and earn revenues.

Mr Anjum argued that the SCO was losing market business to competitors in the telecom sector such as Mobilink and Zong.

MNA Amjad Khan of the PTI also supported the proposal and said: “SCO has worked in some of the most difficult terrains to spread telecom infrastructure in Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK. It deserves to generate revenues.”

In the past, the SCO proposed a free licence to operate and compete with other telecommunication operators such as Mobilink, Telenor and Zong throughout the country. It also demanded a tax exemption on its income, assets, turnover and sales and customs duties on imports and exports. Above all, the SCO said it should continue to be funded by the federal government.

The SCO was established in 1976 to develop, operate and maintain telecommunications services in AJK and GB.

Secretary Ministry of IT Rizwan Bashir told the committee that the SCO proposal to operate as a commercial entity would contradict government’s deregulation policy.

“The intent of the deregulation policy is to see the private sector flourish. The government feels that giving a free hand to SCO to operate commercially could have serious implications for the investors’ confidence. The move can hurt growth of the economy and in particular the telecommunications sector is against such a move,” said Mr Bashir.

Joint Secretary Khalid Raza Gardezi said all financial needs of the SCO were being met by the government to ensure it operated smoothly.

“The SCO takes 80pc of the IT ministry’s budget every fiscal year,” said Mr Gardezi.

Secretary Rizwan Bashir added that the government was discussing with the SCO and members of the Senate Committee on Information Technology to find a solution to the issue.

Chairman Abidi said the SCO needed to be kept alive without putting pressure on the exchequer.

“We hope that the issue will be solved for the betterment of the organisation and the country,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2017