This is how the 25-year provision was omitted to meet vested interest of Ncell

Published On: April 1, 2023 08:30 AM NPT By: Tapendra Karki

Secretary transferred for opposing draft bill

KATHMANDU, April 1: The draft bill to amend the Telecommunications Act has removed the provision that Ncell will be owned by the Government of Nepal in 2029. The provision in sub-section 1 of section 25 of the Act has been deleted in the draft bill. Section 25 of the existing Act mentions the period and renewal of the permit. In sub-section 1 of the same section, the period of the permit is said to be 25 years at most. But in the draft, the provision of renewal is mentioned in section 24 by naming it as 'Integrated Permit'. It is stated in sub-section 3 that ‘A person who has obtained a basic telephone service permit issued before the commencement of this Act shall be deemed to have obtained an integrated permit in accordance with this Act.'

According to sources at the Ministry of Communication, the draft of the Act was prepared without even informing the Minister for Communication Rekha Sharma. The point has been removed from the draft bill due to the involvement of Ncell's local partner company Sunivera Capital Ventures Pvt Ltd and mafias in the local telecom sector. On the instructions of the top leadership of the government, the draft of the bill has been prepared and sent to the cabinet.

After the communication secretary Baikuntha Aryal protested that such a bill should not be brought, he was transferred to the Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday and was given no responsibility.

Satish Lal Acharya's investment in Ncell Sunivera owns 20 percent of the shares, while the remaining 80 percent shares are held by Malaysian telecom company Axiata. Satish Lal is a famous name in Nepal's telecom sector. Acharya has been conducting most of his business in Nepal under the name of wife Bhavana Shrestha.

Ncell's partner company Sunivera is also in the name of Bhavana Shrestha. A senior employee of the Telecommunication Authority said that Acharya made the draft of the Act to be prepared by the top leadership of the government and submit it to the Parliament and get it passed on the basis of majority.

“Last time, Secretary Aryal was against the draft. He was retiring this June. Retiring employees are generally not transferred. Communications Minister Rekha Sharma requested not to transfer the communications secretary, but after the draft of the bill did not reach the cabinet on time, he was transferred," said the source. The Prime Minister's Office has sent Krishna Raut to the communications ministry. But Raut is also considered to be a very honest and uncontroversial secretary. But it is said that even he cannot stop the draft from going to the cabinet and then the parliament.

Communication expert Hari Basyal, who is also the former communication secretary, said that the draft should be technology-friendly, but if any company or person is targeted, it will not be in favor of the state. “The bill proposed by the ministry is discussed in the Ministry of Finance, Legislation Committee and parliamentary committees and finally comes to the parliament for discussion. It takes the form of an Act only after it is passed by the parliament and then is authenticated by the president,” said former Secretary Basyal.

The 25-year license period of Ncell, which was granted a license on 1st September, 2004, will expire in September 2029.

According to the existing Telecommunications Act 2053, after the expiry of the license period, Ncell will come under the ownership of the Government of Nepal.

“In the name of amending the Act of 2053, any type of law that will disadvantage the state should not be drafted,” said former secretary Basyal. The draft of the bill is currently under internal discussion at the ministry and for that the ministry has taken the in-principle approval from the cabinet.

It is said that there is a plan to take the opinion of the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of  Finance on the draft and send the bill to the Council of Ministers for approval.

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