Despite a common goal – an early auction of the third generation (3G) mobile cellular spectrum licence, the officials responsible for the auction are far from reaching a consensus on the legality of hiring 3G consultants.
Because of the difference of opinion among its members, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has not been able to publish a revised Information Memorandum (IM) – the main document for inviting bids for 3G spectrum licence.
Last week, the National Accountability Bureau also declared the hiring of consultants as illegal and asked PTA to either fix the violation by December 26 or rehire the consultants as per rules.
This development has once again created hurdles for PTA and the Auction Supervisory Committee that were all set to complete the auction in January 2013.
Earlier, PTA had failed to hire a consultant firm for 3G rollout on two different occasions and spent more than Rs20 million on advertisements.
In a third attempt, PTA Chairman Farooq Ahmed Awan formed a four-member team that hired three advisers on short-term contract to assist the authority in carrying out the auction. The consultants revised the IM and presented it for PTA’s approval.
However, PTA Member Technical Khawar Siddique Khokhar and Member Finance Nasrul Karim Ghaznavi objected to the hiring of consultants, saying it was in violation of Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules.
Both Khokhar and Ghaznavi told The Express Tribune that they were not consulted during the hiring process and they didn’t approve the IM because they had not read that.
The IT ministry and PTA chairman, on the other hand, have insisted that the hiring was in accordance with the law.
“Recruitment and procurement are two different things,” Prime Minister’s IT Adviser and Auction Supervisory Committee member Basit Riaz Sheikh said. These consultants were hired on a short-term contract and PPRA rules don’t apply to this situation, he added.
The participation of consultancy firms declined from nine in the first phase to just three in the second, Sheikh said, explaining why they chose to hire individual advisers. “We feared that we may not receive any application this time, therefore, we decided to hire individual advisers instead of a company,” he added.
Responding to a question about NAB’s intervention, Sheikh said, “We don’t agree with NAB’s interpretation of PPRA rules.” He said they would meet NAB on January 1 to address its concerns.
Defending the position of PTA chairman, Sheikh said the chairman is empowered to appoint these consultants according to Sections 3(8) and 10(2)(c) of the Pakistan Telecommunication Re-Organisation Act 1996 and Section 115 of the PTA Employees Services Regulations 2008.
Section 10 (2)(c) shows that the authority can appoint advisory bodies, consultants and advisers on contract. However, the term “Authority”, according to the Act, means the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority while Section 3(2) states that the authority shall consist of three members. The section doesn’t mention if chairman is the authority.
Section 3(8) states that the powers of the authority (PTA) in matters relating to its administration and staff shall be exercised by the chairman, including those mentioned in Section 10 (appointment of advisers on contract) – the section, apparently, provides the basis for Awan’s decision.
Sheikh also said PTA needs the consent of other members for regulatory functions but for administrative functions, the chairman alone is the competent authority.
Khokhar, however, said the administrative functions also follow some procedure. He referred to Section 3(9) of the Act, which states that the decision of the authority shall, subject to Section 3(8), be taken with the concurrence of majority of its members – which didn’t happen in the case of hiring 3G consultants.
It is important to note that Ghaznavi has opposed the hiring and refused to approve the IM, but Sheikh said Ghaznavi had signed the documents, which empower the chairman to hire individual consultants.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2012.
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