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Friday June 21, 2024

Telecom firms agree to block non-filers’ Sims in batches

FBR had identified over 0.5 million SIMs and directed the telecom operators to block them all in one go till May 15, 2024

By Israr Khan & Mariana Baabar & Mehtab Haider
May 11, 2024
A representational image of a SIM. — AFP/File
A representational image of a SIM. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: After hectic efforts, the FBR and telecom operators have agreed to block the SIMs of non-filers in batches and the former shared the first batch of 5,000 SIMs with the latter for blockage on Friday.

“After several deliberations, the telecom operators have agreed to initiate the manual blocking process in small batches until their systems are fully equipped to automate it. In this regard, the first batch comprising 5,000 non-filers has been communicated to the telecom operators for compliance regarding SIMs blockage,” the FBR said.

The FBR had identified over 0.5 million SIMs and directed the telecom operators to block them all in one go till May 15, 2024. However, now both sides have evolved a consensus that in the first batch, 5,000 SIMs would be blocked. According to an official announcement, the FBR had engaged in a series of significant meetings with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and telecom operators across Pakistan to ensure effective implementation of Income Tax General Order No. 1, issued under Section 114 B of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001. These meetings were aimed at addressing the enforcement of measures to disable mobile phone SIMs of non-filers for tax year 2023. Multiple discussions were held to streamline the process and ensure compliance with tax regulations.

It was decided that more batches would be sent to telecom operators on daily basis. Moreover, the operators have also commenced sending messages to non-filers regarding blocking of their SIMs for intimation purpose.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP) approved 24 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) for privatisation programme (2024-29) on Friday, covering sectors including airlines, insurance, banking, and power companies.

Chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, the committee meeting also reviewed a proposal concerning the transfer of 322,460,900 shares of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) from the Privatisation Commission’s CDC account to the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division). However, a decision on this matter was postponed.

The CCoP directed the Law and Justice Division to conduct a comprehensive examination of the provisions outlined in the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act 2023 on this case, with recommendations expected for the next CCoP meeting.

Established by the federal government, the Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund operates independently with resources including government capital, assets, and investments, aiming to promote sustainable economic development through international standard management of its assets. The Fund engages in various financial activities overseen by a supervisory council, which can transfer ownership of federal government assets or ownership interests in entities to the Fund.

As per the Act, the supervisory council, upon recommendation from the FBR and approval from the federal government, has the authority to transfer ownership of federal government assets or ownership interests in entities to the Fund. The Act specifically identifies seven entities where the government’s shareholding shall stand transferred to the Fund: Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), Pakistan Petroleum Limited, National Bank of Pakistan, Government Holdings (Private) Limited, Pakistan Development Fund Limited, Mari Petroleum Company Limited, and Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Company (Pvt) Limited. These entities and their corresponding government shareholdings are explicitly listed in the Act for transfer to the Fund.

The CCoP that recommended 24 entities for privatisation programme are Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), Utility Stores Corporation (USC), Hazara Electric Supply Company (HAZECO), and two power generation companies, marking their inclusion in the programme.

Other entities include Pakistan International Airlines Co. Ltd. (PIACL), Roosevelt Hotel Corporation (RHC), Pakistan Re-Insurance Co. Ltd. (PRCL), State Life Insurance Co. Ltd. (SLIC), Postal Life Insurance Company Limited (PLICL), First Women Bank Limited (FWBL), House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC), Pakistan Engineering Company (PECO), Sindh Engineering Limited (SEL), GENCO-I, GENCO-II, GENCO-III, GENCO-IV. Besides, Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO), Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (FESCO), Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), Multan Electric Supply Company (MEPCO), Gujranwala Electric Power Company (GEPCO), Hyderabad Electric Supply Company Limited (HESCO), Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) and Sukkur Electric Power Company (SEPCO) were recommended for privatisation.

During the session, the Ministry of Privatisation presented a phased privatisation programme (2024-29) based on recommendations from the Privatisation Commission Board, as outlined in Section 5(b) of the Privatisation Commission Ordinance 2000. These 24 entities have been recommended by the PC to the committee.

The CCoP recommended prioritising the privatisation of loss-making entities while limiting the federal footprint to strategic and essential state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under the federal government’s purview. The committee stressed the consideration of profitable SOEs for privatisation as well.

After reviewing privatisation policy guidelines, the CCoP meticulously examined 84 SOEs following the SOE Act and Policy. Subsequently, the CCoP issued specific directives:

The committee directed the Ministry of Privatisation to discuss the reasons provided by respective ministries for not including 18 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the privatisation programme in consultations with them. Proposals regarding each SOE would be finalised and submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation in its next meeting.

Notably, ministries/divisions presented a list of 40 SOEs to the CCoP identified as either strategic or essential. The list is now to be presented by their respective ministries to the Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises (CCoSOE). The SOEs that do not meet the criteria for classification as strategic or essential will be integrated into the privatisation programme.

These are Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP), Pakistan Reinsurance Company Limited (PRCL), National Insurance Company Limited (NICL), State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan (SLIC), Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP), Pak Expo Centres Private Ltd, National Highway Authority (NHA), Pakistan Post Office Department (PPOD), Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works Limited (KS&EW Ltd.) and Telephone Industries of Pakistan (TIP), SME Bank Limited, EXIM Bank of Pakistan, National Security Printing Company, National Bank of Pakistan, Industrial Development Bank Limited (IDBL), National Construction Limited, Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultant (PEPAC), Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA), Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMDA), Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), Pakistan Television (PTV), National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC), Karachi Port Trust, Port Qasim Authority (PQA), Gwadar Port Authority (GPA), Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC), Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation (PASSCO), Overseas Employment Foundation, Pakistan State Oil (PSO), Pakistan Minerals Development Corporation (PMDC), GENCO Holding Company Limited (GHCL), National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC), National Power Park Management Company Limited (NPPMCL) that include two RLNG power plants. Besides, Power Holding Power Company Limited (PHPL), Central Power Purchasing Agency (CPPA), National Engineering Service of Pakistan (NESPAK), Private Power Infrastructure Board (PPIB) and STEDEC Technology Commercialisation of Pakistan are also on this list.

These 40 entities will undergo categorisation as either strategic or essential based on further evaluation by the Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises (CCoSOE).

APP adds: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Friday directed the authorities concerned to formulate trade policies with a core objective of facilitating the business sector, calling for urgent measures to enhance competitiveness of the country’s exports.

The prime minister, chairing a meeting on the trade sector, called for steps to promote export of non-traditional goods and instructed for immediate payment of the certified duty drawback of the exporters. Highlighting the significance of the private sector, he instructed to ensure consultation with them during the policy-making and implement the deletion policy to uplift the auto sector.

The PM directed the relevant ministry to devise a comprehensive strategy to scrutinise performance of trade and investment officers posted in Pakistan’s missions abroad, by rewarding the good performers and removing the incompetent ones. The PM told the meeting he would personally carry out fortnightly review of the export sector. In the meeting, the prime minister was told that the discussion on the Free Trade Agreement between Pakistan and the Gulf states was in the final stage and transit trade agreements with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan had already been materialised.

It was told that during the recent Pak-Saudi business conference, around 450 business-to-business meetings were held and the volume of e-commerce trade was witnessing a constant increase with the enlisting of over 3,000 firms on the Pakistan Trade Portal.

The meeting was also apprised of the strict monitoring of Afghan Transit Trade, double-digit premium growth of public sector insurance companies, finalising Gem Export Framework, and in-principle approval by Pakistan and Russia to operationalise the barter trade. It was told that consultation with the stakeholders was in progress on preferential trade agreements with Azerbaijan and Afghanistan, as well as on the new strategic trade policy.

Moreover, necessary legislation was also being made to establish the Technology and Innovation Fund for industrial development.

Federal ministers Jam Kamal Khan, Muhammad Aurangzeb, Dr Musadik Malik, Ahad Khan Cheema, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Jahanzeb Khan, State Bank governor and relevant senior officers attended the meeting.