The Ministry of Justice has rejected the request of the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications to extend the services of the Universal Services Fund (USF) to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).
The request was forwarded to the Ministry of Justice in November 2021 by the Ministry of Computing asking for a legal opinion, whether USF can start telecommunications projects in the GB region, after the directives of the Prime Minister to extend the computer and telecom networks in the GB region.
The British government had asked the Department of Computing and Telecommunications to implement the Prime Minister’s directives in this regard, but department officials noted that constitutionally the AJK and Britain were not part of it. from the country.
“The response has been received and the Ministry of Justice maintains that legally, the amount of USF generated by Pakistan for the development of IT and telecommunications in the unserved and underserved areas of the country, cannot be used in those areas which were constitutionally not part of Pakistan,” said a senior official from the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications.
The official added that the Ministry of Justice, however, suggested that the federal government or any province could provide special grants to GB or AJK for the promotion of computer and telecommunications.
Previously, the Department of Computing asked the Department of Justice whether, by extending the jurisdiction of the two companies (USF and IGNITE) by amending their Memorandum of Association (MoA), be legally able to provide their services in the UK and in AJK or if there is any other amendment(s) required by applicable laws.
The Ministry of Justice was also asked whether simply opening branches of USF and IGNITE in Britain and AJK, the two state-owned companies, could expand their services in the targeted areas and spend funds to provide telecommunications services.
USF is a subsidiary of the Department of Information Technology responsible for extending Internet and telecommunications services to remote areas of the country where telecommunications companies and Internet service providers do not enter because these areas were not commercially viable. The fund is made up of 1.5 percent of the adjusted revenues of telecom operators.
“The amount is a contribution from IT and telecommunications companies and only these companies are allowed to participate in USF projects to extend IT and telecom services to remote unserved areas,” the official added.
Currently, USF Pakistan is working on over 40 projects worth over Rs 35 billion in 70 districts across the country.
The official added that there were concerns that mobile companies contributing to USF might object that the amount generated by them from Pakistan was being spent in GB and AJK, where they have a limited presence.
On the other hand, at least Rs352 million raised by GB Council USF, is unused for what officials claim, legal impediments.
The UK also has a USF (GB) company established in 2015, to extend IT and telecommunications services to unserved areas of the region, but USF (GB) has not yet launched any projects from the available fund of 352 million rupees.
USF (GB)’s main contribution comes from revenues generated by the public organization Special Communications Organization (SCO), which is the main provider of IT and telecommunications services in GB and AJK.
According to the documents, the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, had previously adapted the Pakistan Telecommunications (Reorganization) Act 1996 for Britain.
We can add here that for lack of resolution of the legal and technical obstacles, these companies could not initiate projects in GB and AJK.
Since its inception, the USF GB Council has held at least five board meetings. The company, working with the UK government and the Special Communications Organization, is said to have identified at least 55 GSM, broadband and PSTN in the area.
Investment and funding under USF and IGNITE was needed to provide the telecommunication facilities to the remote areas of GB and AJK to facilitate residents and tourists.