The delay in publishing of Telephone Directories
There is a need to probe into PTCL's failure in meeting its customary obligation
By Syed M. Aslam
August 9 - 15, 1999
It is customary for the telephone companies, the world over, to publish telephone directories and distribute them free-of-cost to their subscribers. The companies take great pains to not only update the information but also make sure that their subscribers get it on time.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) is the sole provider of the traditional fixed-line phone service in the country. PTCL, a fully state-owned enterprise, is one of few profit-making companies in the public sector.
PTCL, untill 1994, met its customary obligation to publish telephone directory after every two years but since 1996 it failed to bring out the updated directory. Informed sources blame the delay on the unscrupulous practices at the highest level within and outside the PTCL.
Sources who chose to remain unnamed for obvious reasons told PAGE that in 1994, PTCL awarded a tender to a private publisher to print 300,000 of the total 550,000 directories for telephone subscribers of Karachi. It gave the rest of the job of printing 250,000 directories to the state-owned printing press, they alleged.
However, only a portion of telephone subscribers of Karachi, the major business, trade and commercial hub of the country; could get the directory. The simple reason to that effect was that only 350,000 directories were actually printed. Sources said that while the private publisher met its obligation to print and deliver 300,000 directories to the PTCL, the state-owned press printed just 50,000 directories which were delivered to distributors only to find their way back four times to tally the 250,000 number on the paper. This deprived 36 per cent of the telephone subscribers in Karachi not to receive a directory in 1994.
In 1996, the PTCL once again invited tenders for the printing of the directory nationwide. The private company which successfully met its obligations to print 300,000 directories was awarded a tender to print a total of 1.2 million directories (3.6 million copies as a single directory comprise three volumes). This included the entire demand of 7 million directories for Karachi and 5 million directories for Lahore. The total cost of the tender was Rs 400 million, sources informed the PAGE.
The joy to bag a lucrative contract, however, proved to be short-lived as, soon afterwards the company was visited by a middleman of the top political figure in the then government demanding a graft of Rs 120 million for winning the deal. The company, however, refused to pay the money. The contract was revoked without assigning any reasons and was subsequently awarded to the state-owned printing press.
Sources alleged that the state-owned printing press agreed to pay the graft, emanating from the high ranking office of the country, on the condition that half of the contract money of Rs 400 million, viz Rs 200 million, should be given to it as advance. The request was granted and the advance was released for the benefit of the unscrupulous elements. Soon afterwards, the government was sacked by the then president Farooq Leghari on the night of November 5, 1996.
Telephone subscribers, not only in the two largest cities Karachi and Lahore but also in the other urban centres throughout the country, are still waiting for the telephone directory which was due to be supplied to them last year.
While the above inside information came out spontaneously during talks regarding some other matter, the sources seemed to get a cold feet later. Promises of providing PAGE with detailed information and briefing on the scam, which has deprived hundreds of thousands of subscribers of the customary directory, the sources failed to keep their promise. And despite appointment PAGEs visits turned out to be a no-show on two consecutive days.
The number of telephone lines in the country has increased from 2.375 million in 1995-96 to over 2.86 million by March this year. This means that PTCL has to publish and deliver at least 2.86 million directories in the year to come, about half of them in Karachi and Lahore jointly.
The failure of the PTCL to deliver the directory to its subscribers is not only a breach of trust but it also hurts the credibility of the Company which is the biggest profit earner in the public sector. The serious allegations need a thorough investigation to unearth the exact cause of PTCLs failure to meet its public obligation.
Number of Telephone Lines In Pakistan
Year Number (Million)
Source: Economic Survey 1998-99