Tuesday April 23, 2024

Delay in appointments render PTA dysfunctional

By Our Correspondent
April 08, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has become dysfunctional due to the delay in the selection of Chairman PTA whose tenure ended in Jan 2023 and the controversy surrounding the extension of Member Compliance & Enforcement.

PTA comprises Members Technical, Finance and Compliance & Enforcement and traditionally Member Technical becomes the Chairman of PTA. Federal Cabinet has recently approved the addition of a new Member of PTA ie Member Administration for which the advertisement process will start soon. All this is happening at a time when major mobile companies are reported to be leaving the Pakistan market, the industry is clamouring for more spectrum and the telecom industry is lagging behind its potential and regional markets.

New posts are being added despite recommendations of a high-powered Austerity Committee and PTA expenses shot up by over 200 percent since 2018. According to reported data, PTA expenses increased from Rs one billion to Rs3.5billion during the tenure of the last Chairman Maj Gen Amir Bajwa. His term ended in January this year and the post of Member Technical was advertised. But the process is moving at a snail’s pace and there is speculation that existing members or some favourites against the newly created post of Member Administration may be influencing the selection of Member Technical.

The Cabinet Division, relevant ministry and the PTA seem oblivious to keeping the authority free of controversy reflected in the recent extension of Member Compliance & Enforcement Dr Khawar Siddique Khokhar. A committee under Minister Ayaz Sadiq recommended Dr Khawar’s extension which now awaits final approval of the cabinet. The extension was allowed despite PPP’s Farhatulalh Babar challenging the extension to Member Finance Mohammad Naveed in Nov 2022 in Islamabad High Court. It was challenged on grounds that the IHC had struck off Rule 5 of PTA Chairman and Member (appointment and qualification) Rules 2013 allowing reappointment and is against the Parent Act as well. Naveed’s term had expired in April 2022 but the cabinet approved his extension in November 2022 with retrospective effect. Naveed is now working as Chairman of PTA despite legal challenges.

The above background did not deter PTA and Cabinet Division to grant a four-year extension to Member Compliance. His extension was recommended under section 3 (2) of the Pakistan Telecom Act 1996 which allows the appointment of a Member for four years and “shall be eligible for appointment of a similar term or terms”. This section clearly bars extension and implies a fresh appointment for another term after an advertised process. This principle was upheld in the Islamabad High Court judgement of 2013. Ironically, the same principle was upheld by the PML N cabinet in 2017 when it rejected the extension of the Chairman PTA Dr Ismail Shah and ordered a new appointment.

Despite this Federal Minister Ayaz Sadiq recommended an extension to Member Compliance against his party’s cabinet decision of 2017 and the judgement of the Islamabad High Court and the extension to Member Finance being challenged in the Islamabad High Court. The federal government will be well advised to complete the selection of Member Technical, who is normally elevated as the Chairman of PTA, at the earliest. And reconsider the appointment of Member Compliance & Enforcement to avoid new controversy and legal challenges.