Pakistan uses troops to back PTCL sale

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Shares in Pakistan Telecommunications (PTCL) rose as much as 4 per cent on Monday in spite of its buildings being guarded by troops as the government pushed ahead with its plans for privatisation.

Scores of telecoms workers have been arrested across Pakistan since Saturday when military and paramilitary troops were ordered by the government to secure key telecoms locations to prevent protesters closing down operations.

The unprecedented military intervention follows the suspension of a June 11 deadline for privatisation bids, delayed because of the threat of a national strike by telecoms workers.

Up to 26 per cent of PTCL's stock is on offer, along with the transfer of management to a new buyer. Telecoms analysts expect the 26 per cent of stock to fetch up to US$1.6bn. The Pakistani government owns 88 per cent of PTCL stock while the remaining 12 per cent belongs to individual equity investors.

The final contenders for the privatisation, who will now formally present their bids this Saturday, include Singapore Telecommunications, China Mobile, Telekom Malaysia, Kuwait's MTC, Saudi Oger, Saudi Telecom, Etisalaat of UAE and Turkey's Turkcell.

In an apparent concession to protesting workers, the government has made two important amendments to the terms announced earlier.

It wants PTCL's new management to offer a tenth of its 26 per cent stock at a discounted rate to the company's employees.

It has also offered a package of incentives worth Rs4.2bn ($70m) to the workers.

These two measures were aimed at blunting criticism that PTCL's privatisation would lead to large-scale job losses under a new management seeking to improve efficiency.

Telecoms analysts said a new management might have to lay off up to a third of PTCL's 61,000 workers to improve efficiency.

?Decisions on PTCL's workforce would be high up on the agenda of anynew management,? said Arshad Arif, chief analyst at Karachi's Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari brokerage house.

PTCL's union officials have threatened to call a strike before this Saturday's deadline.

But a senior government official said the Pakistani military, whose units include a number of battalions trained in running telecoms networks, had secured full control of PTCL's vital installations.

?Disruption to telecom services would be nominal,? said the official, adding that troops would remain deployed as long as necessary.

He said the government did not expect telecoms unions to be able to continue their protests beyond the end of this month.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.