“We are in the proces of preparing legal documents to block the auction on several grounds, including non-payment of our bill and the fact that it will use some of our work without having paid us,” Martin Sims, one of the consultants told The Express Tribune.
This would be the first major challenge for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government that has had smooth sailing so far in the auction process. But regardless of who wins the legal battle, the general public will be the loser in either case.
A lawsuit seeking a stay on the spectrum auction would mean further delay in the much-awaited and oft-delayed high-speed mobile internet services. Payment to the consultants, on the other hand, would mean more than Rs50 million of taxpayers’ money going down the drain as the government has already signed a fresh contract with Value Partners Management Consulting Limited.
On November 23, 2012, PTA had hired Rob Nicholls from the Australian law firm Webb Henderson; Dennis Ward, the former spectrum auctioneer for the Canadian Spectrum Management Programme; and Martin Sims from spectrum specialists PolicyTracker to assist the regulator in carrying out a spectrum auction.
However, PTA’s Member Technical (MT) Khawar Siddiq Khokhar and Member Finance (MF) Nasrul Karim Ghaznavi opposed what they said were illegal appointments. The matter went to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which declared the hiring of consultants illegal and the PTA eventually terminated the contracts in December 2012.
This is not the first time the former consultants have talked about legal action against the PTA. They had engaged three Pakistani lawyers to recover the money earlier this year.
Taking a stay on the spectrum auction until the settlement of payment and legal action in British courts were some of the options they were considering back then. The legal action would mean that the PTA was liable not only for the unpaid fees, which amounts to Rs50 million, but also for the legal costs associated with the case, the consultants had told The Express Tribune in a joint statement.
Before their contracts were cancelled, the consultants had completed more than half of the work at their own expense, which includes travelling to and a four-week stay in Pakistan. The PTA didn’t confirm cancellation of their contracts until January 14, 2013, they said.
The consultants said they were not paid a penny for the work they had done. They were given individual cheques by the PTA for 10% of the agreed fee, but those could not be cashed as the regulator had already cancelled them.
“This is cheque fraud, pure and simple, and punishable by a jail sentence under Pakistani law,” consultant Sims told this correspondent in a previous statement.
“That is something only a court can decide,” said consultant Ward. “The PTA is legally obliged to honour contracts. It can’t appoint itself judge and jury and suddenly decide to pull out,” he said.
Barjees Tahir, former head of the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT and Telecom, had clarified that Awan, then PTA chairman, would have to pay the consultants from his personal account since he didn’t seek consensus by inviting views of other PTA members before the appointments.
The amount claimed by the consultants, it may be added here, is in addition to Rs20 million of public money the former government had spent in advertisements for hiring the consultants.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2013.