Mobile operators add another Rs13bn ISLAMABAD: Another Rs13 billion have accumulated in the Universal Services Fund (USF) account after the federal government diverted over Rs50 billion into its kitty in July 2013.
The USF was set up to promote the development of telecommunication services in un-served and under-served areas throughout the country. Under the law, telecom operators deposit 1.5pc of their revenues in the USF account.
However, the government shocked the telecom industry by moving Rs52 billion, dedicated to spread telephony, from the USF account to the Ministry of Finance to pay off debts, especially to meet the energy crisis.
Experts in the telecom industry described the move as a theft from the telecom industry. They feared that the money in USF account was lost forever.
“The money was transferred from the USF account to the Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF) after an amendment to the law. The government can legally use that amount to meet energy crisis, education or healthcare needs,” Secretary Ministry of Information Technology Rizwan Bashir told Dawn on Wednesday.
He said the USF money had been shifted into the public accounts. The government released the required amount whenever the USF undertook a project to spread telecom services. At present, bids for rural telecom projects have been invited to extend services in Kalat, Khuzdar, Zhob and Mastung.
According to the ministry of IT, in Pishin telecom services were installed at a cost of Rs175 million in 2010. Similarly, Dadu was connected at a cost of Rs250 million in 2009.
However, telecom projects launched by the present government in Zhob worth roughly Rs3.6, Kalat Rs2.1 and Sibi roughly Rs3.2 billion in 2015 are yet to be completed.
While projects worth about Rs20 billion to connect far-flung areas of Pakistan are in progress, Mr Bashir said the USF had currently enough funds to execute all its projects.
The comments came after the Senate committee on problems of less-developed areas at a meeting on Wednesday sought details of the USF accounts of the last three years.
“We believe that the government cannot use the USF money for any other purpose except for the promotion of telecom services.
“We have learnt that the government wanted to meet the circular debt from the USF money which is illegal,” said the chairman of the committee, Senator Mohammad Usman Khan Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP).
The committee members, including Senator Sardar Mohammad Azam Khan Musakhel and Senator Mir Kabeer Ahmed Mohammad Shahi, complained that despite such heavy investments to spread telecom services in the country Balochistan was still the least connected province.
“Balochistan is always the last to benefit from programmes of public welfare,” said Mr Musakhel.
The chairman of the committee alleged that the ministry of IT had installed telecom towers in selected locations to favour certain influential people in Balochistan.
Senator Kakar accused the ministry of IT of discrediting the Baloch people by hindering development in the province.
“This is false. Cases should be registered against such elements who stand in the way of development. Like in other provinces, the people of Balochistan also want progress,” Senator Kakar added.