Pay $450mln renewal fee or licences expire on Aug 21, PTA orders Jazz and Telenor

Pakistan’s biggest mobile network Jazz, and the country’s second-largest telecoms firm, Telenor, are challenging in court the license renewal process after government’s last-minute price hike for a long-term mobile operating license renewal. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2019

Pay $450mln renewal fee or licences expire on Aug 21, PTA orders Jazz and Telenor

  • Pakistan’s biggest and second-largest telecom firms have taken the government to court over the renewal process and price
  • Companies believe licence price hike goes against a 2004 agreement and have challenged the PTA for setting the price in USD

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has informed the country's biggest mobile network, Jazz, and second-largest telecoms firm, Telenor, that their licences will stand expired on August 21 if the companies do not agree to pay a renewal fee of $450 million as per the PTA’s terms and conditions, PTA and Jazz officials said this week.
Pakistan’s telecoms market was deregulated in 2004 and foreign firms such as Jazz have invested heavily. But now the company fears the new renewal fee, which it says goes against an agreement struck in 2004, will pose a significant risk to the connectivity of millions of Pakistanis and jeopardize a growing digital economy.
According to PTA figures as of April 2019, Pakistan has 161 million cellular subscribers, with 59.2 million using Jazz and 44.8 million on Telenor.
“The decision by PTA to expire the licences of operators on August 21, 2019, if not renewed on their terms, is indeed concerning,” Ali Naseer, Chief Corporate and Enterprise Officer at Jazz, told Arab News in an interview this week. “This can potentially disrupt services for millions of Pakistani cell phone users.”
A Telenor spokesman did not respond to repeated calls for comment but a PTA directive to Telenor dated July 22 and seen by Arab News orders the company to pay the $450 million renewal fee by the August 21 deadline and on the PTA’s terms, or risk discontinuation of operations.
Mobile technology is the primary means of communication for millions of Pakistanis. Recent intelligence research by the GSM Association, a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, estimated the total economic impact of mobiles on Pakistan’s economy was $17 billion, or 5.4% of GDP.
In 2017, total direct tax and fee payments by the mobile sector were estimated at $950 million, 29% of operator revenue, and the wider mobile ecosystem contributed a total of $1.9 billion in direct and indirect taxes in 2018, as per the GSM Association. A tax directory issued by the Federal Board of Revenue for tax year 2017 listed Telenor and Jazz among the country's top corporate taxpayers.
Pakistan’s government is currently struggling to lift revenues, cut ballooning public debt and raise foreign reserves. A recently signed loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund is aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy.
“It’s important that Pakistan doesn’t ... place gaining inflated revenues from spectrum licences above the connectivity of its citizens,” Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum at GSMA, said. “Spectrum prices and taxes should be set at a sufficiently low level that allows operators to deliver affordable services and deploy mobile broadband widely.”
The licences of both Jazz and Telenor were originally set to expire on 25 May. In early May, the two companies took PTA to court after the Authority asked them to pay a $450 million renewal fee, more than double the dollar price at which the operators originally acquired licences at auction in 2004.
At the heart of the court challenge between the telecom firms and the Pakistan government is a 2015 telecommunications policy that replaced a 2004 version and which Jazz and Telenor say outlined the terms and conditions for auctions of new spectrums but did not lay down any guidelines regarding renewals.
Globally, licence renewal terms are to be communicated to operators 18 months before a licence is due to expire. According to PTA documents seen by Arab News, the Authority came up with new terms on May 9, a little over two weeks before the May 25 deadline and after Jazz and Telenor had taken the matter to court.
“That is the first example of negligence or incompetence because now, in 2019, when the renewals were due, we found ourselves in a situation where there is no framework,” Naseer said. “Had they [government] come out with a reasonable policy, we would have accepted that because we want predictability. Jazz is now 25 years in the market, we are one of the largest foreign direct investors in the country, we’re not going anywhere in a hurry. We are beholden to the country and we want to work and progress.”
Jazz also says that it communicated its intention to renew its licence 30 months prior to the May 25 expiry deadline, as specified in the licence terms. PTA was then required to inform the operators about the renewal terms and conditions within three months of receiving their intent for renewal, which the Authority did not. In the absence of a new set of guidelines formulated and communicated within the deadline as set by the law and the licence terms, Jazz and Telenor argued in court that the 2004 licence terms and conditions should continue to apply to the latest renewal.
After several hearings, the Islamabad High Court remanded the case back to PTA last month, asking the Authority to review the terms of renewal with a “fresh eye.” After quasi-judicial hearings for both Jazz and Telenor, PTA concluded on July 22 that the telecom operators would have to pay the set price of $450 million by August 21.
PTA directives to Jazz and Telenor seen by Arab News said payment terms for the $450 million renewal fee would be 100% upfront or 50% upfront with the remaining 50% paid in five equal annual installments on the London Interbank Offered Rate, plus 3%. The payment could be made in USD or its equivalent in Pakistani rupees, calculated at the market exchange rate at the time of payment.
“We are disappointed that PTA has not been able to see our point of view on these renewals,” Naseer said. “We are committed to endeavour towards improved connectivity and an enabling digital environment in Pakistan.”
A PTA spokesman declined repeated requests for an interview and only referred to public documents about the licences.
The decision by Pakistan’s cash-strapped government to set the new renewal fee in US dollars and not in local rupee currency, which has lost about 40 percent against the dollar in the last 20 months, is another major sticking point for the mobile operators.
The 2004 auction for a 15-year licence cost $291 million, equivalent to Rs17 billion at the 2004 exchange rate. But with the rupee plunging to record lows against the dollar, Jazz now faces paying Rs67 billion for $450 million, a 265% increase compared to what Jazz paid in 2004.
Naseer said the company earned and charged customers in local currency, not dollars, and thus setting the renewal fee in dollars was “unsound.”
“We believe in Pakistan and if word gets out that existing investors are being treated like this it makes it very difficult for us to say ‘Pakistan is open for business’,” Naseer said.
Jazz says it is now evaluating the option of renewing its licence at the PTA’s asking price, letting it expire or filing an appeal with the Islamabad High Court before August 22. Telenor’s options are similar.
“Honestly, at this stage we are evaluating all our options,” Naseer said. “Nothing has been ruled out.”

Ex-PM Khan gets protective bail in two terrorism cases filed in Islamabad

Updated 13 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan gets protective bail in two terrorism cases filed in Islamabad

  • The cases were registered against him after his party supporters clashed with the police at Judicial Complex
  • Lahore High Court takes up contempt petition filed by Khan after Saturday’s police raid at his Lahore residence

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Tuesday granted protective bail to former prime minister Imran Khan in two terrorism cases which were filed against him after clashes broke out between the police and his party supporters at the Judicial Complex in Islamabad on Saturday.

Khan was scheduled to appear in a district and sessions court in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, commonly known as the Toshakhana reference, though the court decided to adjourn its proceedings after fighting intensified between the two sides.

Judge Zafar Iqbal allowed Khan to go back after signing the attendance roll after being informed that the former prime minister could not move to the courtroom amid teargas shelling by the police and stone pelting by the activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

The government decided to file cases against Khan and dozens of his party leaders and supporters on terrorism charges in the wake of the incident.

“The Lahore High Court on Tuesday approved Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan’s protective bail in two terrorism cases filed against him in Islamabad,” reported Dawn newspapers, adding the bail would be effective until March 27.

Separately, a Lahore High Court judge took up a contempt petition filed by the former prime minister after police raided his residence in Lahore on the same day when he was in Islamabad for indictment in the Toshakhana reference.

The court had instructed the police to stand down last week after they went to Khan’s residence to detain him following the issuance of non-bailable arrest warrants against him by the Islamabad district court.

“I reached the Islamabad Toll Plaza and they attacked my house,” Dawn quoted Khan as saying in the court.

“The only message they have given is that there is no rule of law,” he added.

The judge announced he was going to initiate the contempt proceedings while also asking the authorities to provide details of cases against the former prime minister.


Months after Pakistan floods, millions lack safe water — UN

Updated 30 min 49 sec ago

Months after Pakistan floods, millions lack safe water — UN

  • Floods in Pakistan last year damaged most water pipelines in affected areas
  • More than 5.4 million people forced to rely solely on contaminated water from ponds

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations children’s agency on Tuesday warned that after last summer’s devastating floods, 10 million people in Pakistan, including children, still live in flood-affected areas without access to safe drinking water.

The statement from UNICEF underscored the dire situation in impoverished Pakistan, a country with a population of 220 million that months later is still struggling with the consequences of the flooding, as well as a spiraling economic crisis. The floods, which experts attribute in part to climate change, killed 1,739 people, including 647 children and 353 women.

So far, less than half of UNICEF’s funding appeal for Pakistan — 45 percent of $173.5 million — has been met. According to the agency, before the floods struck last June, water from only 36 percent of Pakistan’s water system was considered safe for human consumption.

The floods damaged most of the water pipelines systems in affected areas, forcing more than 5.4 million people, including 2.5 million children, to rely solely on contaminated water from ponds and wells, UNICEF said.

“Safe drinking water is not a privilege, it is a basic human right,” said Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF representative in Pakistan. “Yet, every day, millions of girls and boys in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle against preventable waterborne diseases and the consequential malnutrition.”

“We need the continued support of our donors to provide safe water, build toilets and deliver vital sanitation services to these children and families who need them the most,” Fadil added.

Amid the crisis, Pakistan faces uncertainty about a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Analysts say the revival of the $6 IMF bailout, which was signed in 2019, would help Pakistan. If the global lender released a key installment of the package, it would encourage other international financial institutions to help the country, they say.

At a UN-backed conference in Geneva in January, dozens of countries and international institutions pledged more than $9 billion to help Pakistan recover and rebuild from the floods. But most of the pledges were in form of project loans, and the projects are still in the planning stages.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government is also facing a surge in militant attacks and political instability as his predecessor, Imran Khan, is campaigning for early elections. Sharif has rejected the demands by Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April.

Sharif seeks political and economic stability to ensure speedy reconstruction in the flood-hit areas, where the weakest and the children are paying the price.

“In flood-affected areas, more than 1.5 million boys and girls are already severely malnourished, and the numbers will only rise in the absence of safe water and proper sanitation,” UNICEF said.

The floods caused more than $30 billion in damages as large swaths of the country remained under water for months, forcing millions to live in tents or make-shift homes near stagnant waters that led to the spread of disease.

Sharif’s government is also trying to provide food and cash assistance to flood survivors as the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan starts this week, adding more financial burdens to the poorest of the population.

Pakistan’s parliament summoned in midst of crisis over former PM Khan 

Updated 25 min 13 sec ago

Pakistan’s parliament summoned in midst of crisis over former PM Khan 

  • Khan’s supporters have clashed with police several times over recent days during his court appearances
  • Speaker says ruling coalition called for parliament to “take important decisions” to enforce state’s writ

ISLAMABAD, March 21 : Pakistan’s parliament is to meet in a special joint session on Wednesday to “take important decisions” to enforce the state’s authority, media reported, in the midst of a crisis over anti-government defiance by former Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

Former cricket star Khan was prime minister from 2018 until 2022, when he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote. Since then, he has been demanding a new election and holding protests across the country to press his case. 

His supporters have clashed with police several times over recent days as authorities try to force him to appear in court in connection with various cases brought against him. 

The office of the speaker of parliament, in calling Wednesday’s joint session, did not give a reason but the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said the ruling coalition had called for parliament to “take important decisions” to ensure the writ of the state was enforced. 

The APP, reporting on a meeting attended by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his cabinet, cited the participants as saying Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was not a political party but “rather a gang of militants,” and its “enmity against the state” could not be tolerated. 

Sharif has rejected Khan’s demand for a new election saying it would be held as scheduled later this year. 

Parliament will meet in the capital, Islamabad, as Khan’s supporters gather for his latest rally in the eastern city of Lahore. 

The clashes between Khan’s supporters and the security forces have brought a new round of political chaos to the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people, which is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis. 

Khan says the government and the powerful military are trying to stop him from contesting the next election, scheduled for November. If convicted in a case, Khan could face disqualification from the polls. 

Both the government and military deny this. 

Police have arrested hundreds of Khan’s supporters in raids in recent days in response to the clashes. 

Gunmen slay 11 in northwest Pakistan ‘family feud’ – police

Updated 21 March 2023

Gunmen slay 11 in northwest Pakistan ‘family feud’ – police

  • Inter-family feuds are common in Pakistan, particularly in northwestern region
  • Police official says “up to five people opened fire” on a vehicle carrying 11 people

PESHAWAR: Gunmen killed 11 people including a prominent local politician in northwest Pakistan, police said Tuesday, an ambush blamed on a decades-long vendetta between families.

Inter-family feuds are common in Pakistan, but in the mountainous northwestern region where communities abide by traditional tribal honor codes they can be particularly protracted and violent.

Police said 42-year-old Atif Munsif Khan, leader of a district council in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was killed on Monday night in the town of Havelian, 33 kilometers (20 miles) north of Islamabad.

District police official Omar Tufail told AFP that “up to five people opened fire from two sides” on a vehicle carrying Khan and 10 others, including bodyguards and a police escort, “killing them all on the spot.”

“The vehicle caught fire as a result and all on board were burned alive and the charred bodies are now beyond recognition,” he said.

Tufail said the Khan family registered a police complaint “blaming the assassination on their rivals” in a feud “said to be almost five decades old,” which also claimed the life of Khan’s father and grandfather.

“Dozens of people from both sides have been killed as a result of this family feud so far,” he added.

Another local senior police official, Sajid Tanoli, confirmed the incident and ruled out the involvement of militant groups such as the Pakistan Taliban which have long thrived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Khan was a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, led by former prime minister Imran Khan, although the men were not related.

Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to drop ‘overboard’ terrorism charges against ex-PM’s supporters

Updated 21 March 2023

Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to drop ‘overboard’ terrorism charges against ex-PM’s supporters

  • Police registered terrorism cases against over a dozen members of ex-PM Khan’s party over Saturday’s clashes
  • Human Rights Watch urges police to respect right to peaceful assembly, keep unlawful violence in check

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed worry on Tuesday over the use of “overboard” terrorism charges by the government against former prime minister Imran Khan’s supporters, a few days after his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party supporters clashed with police in Pakistan’s capital.

Islamabad police on Sunday registered a terrorism case against more than a dozen members of Khan’s party for vandalism at the capital’s judicial complex. Clashes erupted on Saturday when the former prime minister arrived for a hearing in Islamabad in a case relating to the sale of state gifts while Khan was prime minister. Khan faces a slew of cases across the country, with charges against him ranging from murder to sedition, which carries the death penalty in Pakistan.

Punjab police and the caretaker provincial government have both accused Khan’s supporters of pelting stones and hurling petrol bombs at law enforcers. Khan denies the allegations and insists the Shehbaz Sharif-led ruling coalition government wants to kill him.

In its statement, the HRW urged Pakistan to “appropriately prosecute” any of the former prime minister’s supporters who have engaged in unlawful acts of violence, uphold the right to peaceful protest, and refrain from unlawful use of force.

“The use of Pakistan’s vague and overbroad anti-terrorism provisions against opposition protesters is very worrying,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “If the authorities believe that Khan’s or his supporters’ actions have resulted in violence or constituted a real threat to public safety, they should be charged under the appropriate laws.”

Gossman stressed on the need for both sides to respect the rule of law and human rights and practice restraint. “It is vitally important for the police to respect the right to peaceful assembly while holding those responsible for unlawful violence to account,” she added.

Separately, Khan wrote to Pakistan’s chief justice on Monday and urged him to conduct an investigation into Saturday’s clash with law enforcers and the earlier police raid on his Lahore residence. According to a copy of the letter seen by Arab News, Khan stated that police attacked his party’s supporters when he had arrived at the Islamabad judicial complex “without any provocation.”

“I realized something was amiss and that it was not my arrest that was being planned but my assassination,” Khan wrote.

“In view of the continuing threats to my life and the assault on my home, I would request you to order a proper investigation into these events,” he added.

These actions have never happened before to anyone let alone a former Prime Minister and leader of the largest political party in Pakistan.”

On Monday night, PM Sharif chaired a meeting of the coalition government’s parties. In a press statement after meeteing, the government accused Khan’s party supporters of attacking law enforcers and vowed to take stern action against them.

“Attacks on officers and personnel of state institutions by violently trained gangs of banned organizations is very alarming,” the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said in a statement.

The police in Pakistan have used abusive measures in the escalating confrontation between police and Imran Khan’s supporters, Human Rights Watch said today.

They have charged protesters with batons and detained them under sweeping counter-terrorism laws. The authorities should appropriately prosecute any of the former prime minister’s supporters who have engaged in unlawful acts of violence, uphold the right to peaceful protest, and refrain from the unlawful use of force.

“The use of Pakistan’s vague and overbroad anti-terrorism provisions against opposition protesters is very worrying,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If the authorities believe that Khan’s or his supporters’ actions have resulted in violence or constituted a real threat to public safety, they should be charged under the appropriate laws.”

All sides should display restraint and respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Gossman said. “It is vitally important for the police to respect the right to peaceful assembly while holding those responsible for unlawful violence to account.”