Pakistan hopes to resolve $800mn payment row with UAE telecom provider

Pakistan hopes to resolve $800mn payment row with UAE telecom provider
Pakistan and UAE are optimistic that they will be able to resolve a long-standing dispute, amounting to $800 million and to be paid by telecom giant Etisalat. (AP/File)
Updated 05 January 2019

Pakistan hopes to resolve $800mn payment row with UAE telecom provider

Pakistan hopes to resolve $800mn payment row with UAE telecom provider
  • Delegation to visit Islamabad in February to end dispute with Etisalat, senator tells Arab News
  • Authorities plan to retrieve amount in five equal installments

KARACHI: Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are optimistic that they will be able to resolve a long-standing dispute, amounting to $800 million and to be paid by telecom giant Etisalat, when their representatives meet next month, officials said on Friday.
The issue is over the privatization proceeds of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) which were to be paid by UAE's Etisalat.
“I am confident the issue will be resolved in the first week of February,” Senator Fida Muhammad, member of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication, told Arab News on Friday.
He added that he has been following up on the payment issue for the past six to seven months which is “our top priority because a lot of time has been wasted”.
“We have categorically told the ministry that we have to make progress under the agreement (with Etisalat) and get the issue resolved," the senator, who belongs to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, said.
He added: “We plan to get the $800 million from Etisalat in five equal instalments in six months’ time”. 
According to the senator, a UAE delegation will visit Pakistan later this month  to discuss the matter.
Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary Privatization Commission of Pakistan, Rizwan Malik had told the Senate Standing Committee that a meeting with Etisalat's management was due at the end of this month.
Pakistan had privatized PTCL in 2005 through a bidding process which saw UAE’s Etisalat emerge as the winner. It acquired 26 percent stakes and the management control of PTCL for $2.6 billion. However, Etisalat withheld $800 million and the issue has remained unresolved for more than a decade.
Last year, Pakistan’s privatization ministry had hinted at moving the International Court of Arbitration (ICC) against Etisalat for the payment of $800 million which is overdue.
“We are moving a summary to the federal government to take up the issue with the UAE government for the settlement of outstanding dues. Going to the ICC is the last option that Pakistan will exercise," Irfan Ali, former Secretary of Privatization, had told Arab News.
Etisalat withheld the payment on the grounds that Islamabad has not yet mutated some 3,500 properties as part of the agreement with the government of Pakistan.
Last year, UAE's acting Consul General in Karachi, Bakheet Ateeq Al Romaithi, had told Arab News that the UAE and incoming government of Pakistan would resolve the issue of PTCL's overdue privatization proceeds worth $800 million.
"I am honest with you there is no issue at all and it is between two brothers. I am 100 percent sure the issue will be resolved after the new government takes up the matter," Romaithi had said at the time.
However, Malik on Wednesday told the committee that PTCL’s asset management wing had provided flawed records on its properties as it owned only 3,248 properties but had mentioned 3,384 in the privatization agreement which was finalized in 2006.
"Thegovernment, which has 62 percent stake in PTCL on November 15, 2018, has provided the list of all 3,248 properties to Etisalat with details why the remaining 33 properties could not be transferred to PTCL," Dawn newspaper quoted Malik as saying during the briefing.
He added that the remaining 33 properties, which cannot be transferred to PTCL, had been evaluated at the market price and that the information had been conveyed to Etisalat.
PTCL shareholding was 62 percent, when 26 percent of shares and control were sold to Etisalat while the remaining 12 percent were sold to the general public in 2006 under an intensified privatization program launched by former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.