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World Affairs



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Dry port kicks up a storm A confused Pakistan

TRC mute on frequency allocations

Themiya Hurulle and Kariyapperuma

By Arthur Wamanan

Amidst allegations levelled against the present Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) CEO Priyantha Kariyapperuma for allocating radio frequencies to a company headed by his brother Roshantha, a call by a former TRC head to audit the issuance of such frequencies has been overlooked.

The TRC is currently in troubled waters due to additional radio frequencies being allocated to the Voice of Asia (VoA) Network owned by Roshantha Kariyapperuma, the brother of the present TRC head.

The additional frequencies were assigned at a time when many other stations have to be waitlisted due to 'unavailability of frequencies.'

While trade unionists have called for the free action of the frequencies preventing monopolies and unfair assigning of frequencies, comes the call of a former TRC head to have the Auditor General conduct an audit of the assigning of frequencies.

Nearly a year ago!

Former Director General, TRC, Themiya Hurulle is yet to know the fate of his request made to the Auditor General (AG)  nearly a year ago on irregularities in issuing radio and TV licences. Hurulle had requested the AG to inquire and audit  the issuance of radio frequency spectrum but says he is unaware of the progress on the auditing process.

Our sister paper, The Morning Leader had published a news article on Hurulle's request on March 12, 2008.

Hurulle warned that millions of rupees would be at stake if the proper procedures specified by the government were not followed in issuing radio, TV,  telecom operator licences and radio frequency spectrum.

However, the AG is yet to get back to Hurulle on his inquiries, almost a year after the request.

There have been several suggestions to alter the allocation of FM frequencies that could also benefit the government.

Method of assigning FM frequencies

Trade unionists have suggested that the method of assigning FM frequencies to the radio stations should be altered to be more on the lines of frequency allocations practiced in our neighbouring country, India.

In India, radio frequencies are not considered something that could be sold or traded. Instead, they are considered as public property and thus allocated at a public auction.

Funds for the Indian government also reportedly increase due to these auctions, thus, it might be a good option for SL authorities to follow such a methodology in providing frequency allocations. This suggestion has however not yet been accepted by the Sri Lankan  authorities.

Hurulle in his letter addressed to the AG requested him to carry out separate, individual audits to ascertain whether government laid down tender and financial procedures are being followed.

Failure to adhere to the  procedures

The failure to adhere to the procedures would also result in wrong operators entering the field, which would be detrimental to the country and the consumer.

"As such, I hereby request you to carry out separate, individual audits to ascertain whether government laid down Tender and Financial Procedures have been conformed to; whether suitable operators were selected and maximum revenue was earned in the issuance of the under mentioned from January 2005 todate on Radio and Television Broadcasting Licences (Minister of  Broadcasting / Media), Licences for Telecommunications Services (Minister in charge of the TRCSL and the Commissioners administering the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka) and Allocation of Radio Frequency Spectrum (Minister of the TRCSL and the Commissioners administering the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka)," Hurulle had said in his letter.

The former TRC head had also urged the AG to inform the public, the Committee On Public Enterprise (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) once the individual audits are completed.

However, that too has not been done by the AG, according to Hurulle. The complaint by Hurulle is very much connected to the allegations faced by the current TRC head.

Issuance of radio licences

Hurulle wanted inquiries held on the issuance of radio licences while Kariyapperuma faces charges of irregularities in issuing such licences.

As mentioned earlier, the TRC is already facing charges of irregularities in providing additional radio frequencies to the Voice of Asia (VoA).

The VoA is a relatively new broadcasting organisation that commenced its operations just over a year ago. The VoA, which originally had three frequencies, has reserved 13 additional frequencies in a short span of time, while other private radio stations have had to wait for years to get their frequencies approved by the TRC. The additional frequencies were allocated by the TRC after the appointment of Priyantha Kariyapperuma as the Director General.

Several radio stations that spoke to The Sunday Leader earlier said that they have had to wait for years to have additional frequencies allocated by the TRC to expand their broadcasts.

They also claimed that they were eagerly awaiting the recommendations put forward by COPE to follow it up with litigation in the public interest.

COPE inquiries

Parliamentary sources say that consideration will be given to reassigning the additional 16 airwaves to the TRC, once COPE completes its inquiries into the matter. The sources say that they have received complaints and documents in support of the assignment of airwaves for the VoA.

Radio frequencies cannot be issued at will. Those who want to reserve audio frequencies have to follow set procedures.

According to Assistant Director - Radio Frequency Management, TRC, Nihal Ratnapala, the criteria for the allocation of radio frequencies to radio/television networks, depends on the request made by particular stations.

The licence to operate a radio station, issued by the Media Ministry is compulsory. The licence should be obtained by the relevant organisation at the time it requests for the allocation of frequencies.

"First they should have the licence obtained from the Media Ministry to operate a radio TV station. Then they can apply to the TRC for frequencies for broadcasting their programmes," Ratnapala said.

Islandwide coverage

According to Ratnapala, a channel requires more than 10 frequencies to have quality islandwide coverage. But, he added that the TRC found it difficult to allocate frequencies immediately when requested  due to the demand for frequencies.

This again brings back the issue relating to the VoA. The fact that VoA has reserved 13 additional airwaves within a short period of time has given ample reasons for the competitors to 'smell a rat.'

Millions of rupees are still at stake despite having several other methods for the government to earn profits through allocation of frequencies.

Auditor General S. Swarnajothi was not available for comment as he was away from the country. When contacted by The Sunday Leader, the AG's office said that Swarnajothi would be back on February 24 and that no one else was authorised to speak to the media except the AG himself.

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