The Senate Standing Committee on the Cabinet Secretariat has taken serious note of the non-recovery of around $800 million proceeds on account of the privatization of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited from Etisalat, and summoned the Privatization Commission with all the related records of the next meeting.

The Senate Standing Committee met with Rana Maqbool Ahmed in the chair and was briefed that 26 percent of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited’s (PTCL) shares had been privatized in 2006 through a bidding process, and that Etisalat had acquired these shares.

Additionally, around $800 million proceeds of the privatization have still not been recovered from Etisalat. As per the agreement, a total of 3263 properties were to be transferred to Etisalat, of which 3230 have been transferred and 33 could not be transferred due to certain unavoidable circumstances.

Chairman Ahmed expressed his reservations about the entire process of privatization and asked why public money has been languishing for the last 15 years. “Someone must be held accountable for this delay,” he remarked.

An official from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority informed the committee that the matter falls under the ambit of the Privatization Commission and the Ministry of Finance, and the chairman summon the officials of the Privatization Commission along with all the related records of the privatization of PTCL for the next meeting of the committee.

The committee also discussed the matter of health hazards caused by mobile transmission towers of telecommunication companies. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) stated that safety guidelines regarding the height and power intensity of such equipment have been issued to companies as per global practice for compliance, and said that it monitors the situation independently.

It added that 4G mobile licenses have been issued to mobile companies for the provision of fast mobile broadband services in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority informed the committee that the international increase in the prices of petroleum products and the devaluation of the rupee are the main reasons behind the elevation of the local prices. The panel discussed the recent exorbitant price hikes in the prices of petrol and diesel products, their causes, and remedial measures to reduce the suffering of the poor.

Chairman Ahmed asked the Chairman of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) why LNG supplies had not been secured in January when the prices had been very low, to which the latter replied that 70 percent of the supplies are secured through long term contracts but 30 percent are based on on-spot purchases as per the global practice.

The members of the committee asked the Chairman of the OGRA about the recent hikes in the prices of petroleum products that have resulted in a great wave of inflation in Pakistan. The latter emphasized that the international increase in the prices of petroleum and the devaluation of the local currency are the main reasons behind the hike in the local prices.

The Chairman of the Committee also enquired why oil marketing companies are allowed to sell their products at increased rates when they already have previously purchased stocks that they had bought at lower rates. The Chairman of the OGRA argued that the same principle is applied when the prices are reduced. Oil marketing companies sell their products at lower prices when the prices of oil are reduced locally.

Chairman Ahmed then told the Chairman of the OGRA to play his part in providing relief to the common public which is already hugely burdened by constantly rising inflation.

The prices of petroleum products in Pakistan are currently determined as per the “pricing of petroleum products policy” of the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division) notified vide letter No. PL-3(457)/2019 dated 24 August 2020.

Under the existing policy, the prices of petrol (MS) and diesel (HSD) are linked to the average of the ‘Daily Arab Gulf Prices,’ PSO’s premium, and its incidental costs of cargos imported during the previous fortnight period. The prices of MS and HSD in the country are directly linked to the international prices of petroleum products and the Dollar-Rupee parity.

The development of storages at a large scale similar to India and China was suggested to absorb the abrupt price hike in the international market. Furthermore, the industry cargo size needs to be enhanced up to 60,000 to 80,000 M.Tons to save freight, and premiums, etc., and the necessary facilities need to be developed to cope with interlink challenges at ports.

The Chairman of the committee was dissatisfied with the explanation provided by the OGRA officials, and decided that the matter would be discussed further in the next meeting of the committee.

The committee also deliberated over the recent exorbitant hike in electricity prices in the country and questioned the Chairman of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority about the inefficiency of the Lahore Electric Supply Company and other distributions companies.

The Chairman of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) said that all the distribution companies are directly controlled by the Ministry of Power, which is a relevant forum for these kinds of queries. He clarified that the NEPRA is not authorized to hold the heads of these distribution companies accountable or dismiss them. He attributed the recent price hikes to line losses and theft, and said that the NEPRA has already recommended the privatization of all the electricity distribution companies to the government.

The Chairman of the committee said that electricity bills have swollen beyond the reach of the common man and that consumers are being unfairly charged for line losses.

A public petition regarding the framing of recruitment rules for the regularization of civil gazetted officers of the BPS -17 HOS frontier corps KP (South) was reviewed, and Chairman Ahmed directed the officials of the Establishment Division to resolve the matter promptly in coordination with the Ministries of Finance and Interior.

A discussion on a public petition pertaining to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation was deferred because of the absence of officials from the Government of Balochistan. The Chairman of the committee noted the continued absence of the Chief Secretary of Balochistan and called for a letter to be written to him for the last time or else the law would take its course.

He also praised the remarkable performance of the national cricket team against India and New Zealand as an “unimaginable achievement” and felicitated the nation for such an emphatic victory.

He apprised the committee members that the Indian government and the Hindutva clergy have taken Pakistan’s victory with a pinch of salt, which speaks volumes about the myopic Indian mindset and lack of the spirit of sportsmanship.

“It’s a matter of sorrow that strong violent reactions are witnessed in the Indian cities. In general and in mega, Indian Occupied Kashmir. In Srinagar, cases are registered against the students of colleges and universities for the innocent students’ mere celebration, and the happiness over the victory of the Pakistani Team,” he said.

Chairman Ahmed added that there is “a trajectory of Indian atrocities against the innocent students, young men and elderly people living in the IOJ&K. Flagrant violation of human rights is being perpetrated against the courageous Kashmiri people”.

The committee unanimously passed its resolution, condemning India’s inhumane and illegal actions against the Indian Muslims and Kashmiri youth in the strongest possible terms.

The meeting of the committee was attended by Senators Saifullah Sarwar Khan Nyazee, Kamil Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, Khalida ATeeb, Moula Bux Chandio, Engr. Rukhsana Zuberi, Saadia Abbasi, Muhammad Talha Mahmood; officials from the Cabinet Secretariat; and the Chairmen of the OGRA, the NEPRA, and the PTA.