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Pemra refuses to cede office space to PCP

Pemra refuses to cede office space to PCP

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) is resisting the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s efforts to give the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) office space in Pemra’s Islamabad office. The authority has rejected the ministry directions, asking it to provide PCP space in its building due to financial constraints.

In February of this year, the PCP had requested the ministry to allot it fresh premises as the building where the PCP secretariat was housed had been declared ‘unsafe’ by civic authorities. The ministry, on March 3, issued directions to Pemra to “accommodate PCP request for physical relocation at its 1st floor measuring 8,900 square feet”.

A letter sent to Pemra by the ministry read: “Instead of renting out the entire 1st floor of Pemra premises to a private party, which is likely to cause administrative discomfort to the authority operations by exposing it to external social and political factors impacting its institutional privacy, it would be advisable that it accommodates a sister print media regulator – PCP – for its physical relocation.”

“Pemra is further advised to accommodate PCP on its vacant floor by offering it on government admissible rates. It would help Pemra to maintain its operational privacy and security both,” the letter maintained, adding, “The federal government’s … directive has the approval of the competent forum.”

In response to the directive, the PCP registrar, on March 6, requested the Pemra chairman “to please intimate the date of execution for formal lease agreement.”

However, in a response to the ministry sent on the same day, Pemra General Manager (Administration) Abdul Jalal Kakar wrote: “Pemra generates its own funds and prepares its own budget. Renting of office space does not fall under the policy directives. Furthermore, Pemra would incur financial loss if the late and vague request for renting the place at Pemra Headquarters is considered.”

Mr Kakar wrote that the issue in question was, “a purely administrative decision in which significant Pemra finances are involved, which at present is already under serious constraints.”

Explaining their reasons for not allowing PCP to barge in, the officials at the authority maintained that the space the ministry wanted to provide to the print media regulator had already advertised and the process of renting it out to a successful bidder was in its final stages.

In response to the Pemra letter, the ministry sent another letter on March 12, suggesting that Pemra cancel the bid. However, the authority maintained that this would be contrary to Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules.

“PCP did not come up with any proposal during [the bidding] stage … after fulfilling the laid down procedure in accordance with PPRA rules, it is not legally possible to consider the PCP proposal,” was Pemra’s stance.

The ministry then sent another communiqué to the authority, citing Section 5 of Pemra Ordinance 2002 which stipulates that in case of any controversy, “the decision of the federal government shall be final” and advised Pemra not to rent out its premises to any other party and to comply with the directive asking them to offer the space to the PCP.

A Pemra official told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the building Pemra headquarters were housed in belonged to the authority and was not owned by the federal government. “It is up to the authority to decide how to rent it out and to whom it can be leased,” he said.

Nazir Jawad, a senior lawyer and a former legal advisor to the Ministry of Housing and Works, told Dawn that since was an authority and not an attached department of the information ministry, it was under no obligation to offer its space to any other entity of the federal government.

Referring to section 5 of Pemra Ordinance, he said that though clear that the federal government has a final say in case of any ‘controversy’, but in this matter the federal government should be the federal cabinet. “If the federal cabinet issues directions to Pemra, then they are bound to act upon them,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2015

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