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USF is delivering the social and economic benefits of ICTs to the masses through affordable broadband

Asher Siddiqui, the new CEO of USF shares his thoughts with Teletimes
Exclusive Interview

Mr. Riaz Asher Siddiqui has been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of Universal Service Fund (USF Co.) Pakistan. He has replaced Mr. Parvez Iftikhar.
Mr. Asher has a vast experience and brilliant career in the Telecom Industry of South Asia region. He remained the President of South Asia Operations of Teralight Ltd. and the Senior Vice President of SAMENA Telecommunications Council for many years.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani interviewed Mr. Asher Siddiqui personally on 12th of December 2011 and decided to appoint him for the post. Mr. Asher took over the charge as CEO of USF Co. on 16th December 2011.
Mr. Asher Siddiqui has more than 26 years diversified experience in Telecom and ICT, enterpreneureship and mentoring.
During his career he headed Navy Directorate in GHQ for defense network, where he was heading over 500 men and executed projects of over 100m US$. He served on board naval ships as head of electrical / electronic branch. He also headed Pakistan Navy Dockyard workshops (over 1500 men and 5 workshops to provide support services to Pakistan Naval ships / submarines for weapons / electrical engineering).
In the private sector, Mr. Asher served in Alcatel as Project and Business Development Manager for Pakistan, secured multimillion sales (140m US$) and opened door in Mobilink for Alcatel. He was one of the founding top executives of SAMENA Telecommunications Council.
Mr. Asher Siddiqui is a founder chartered member of TiE (Islamabad Chapter), a US based entrepreneurship and mentor organization. He won WHO & WHO VIP Carrier Achievement Award. He provided entrepreneur services to IMA Karachi and his mentor won the awards.
Teletimes has the evedit to publish the first and exclusive interview of Mr. Asher Siddiqui as the CEO of USF.

Teletimes – There have been a lot of rumors and delays for the appointment of CEO, USF position. Would you like to tell the selection procedure followed in your case?
Asher Siddiqui – There is a standard procedure for selection of CEO of USF which requires time and detailed scrutiny. Clause no. 21 of USF rules clearly states that “The Board shall have the power to appoint and remove the CEO in accordance with the provisions of the Ordinance”.
The short-listing of CVs for the post of CEO was analyzed by the HR Governance Committee (HRGC) of the USF Board which comprises Chairman-PTA and nominees of fixed lines and cellular licensees. HRGC after thorough scrutiny forwarded its recommendations to the Chairman of the USF Board i.e. Prime Minister of Pakistan who ultimately carried out the interviews of short listed candidates by HRGC. After appointment, all BOD members’ concurrence was taken.

TT – You were also interviewed by the Prime Minister before the selection. How was the experience while being judged by Head of the Government?
AS – It was indeed an experience that reflected the importance and significance of the post of CEO-USF. Being interviewed by Head of the Government surely makes one realize the responsibility that is attached to this assignment.
Before my appointment, I felt if I would be successful in acquiring this post, it would be a great opportunity for me to contribute significantly towards the technological progress and prosperity of the Telecom Industry and my lovely country Pakistan.

TT – What challenges are in your focus to strengthen the USF Co?
AS – USF despite achieving so much success has faced a difficult year due to its uncertain future. Now that most of the uncertainties have ended, we plan to revise our plans for the launch of future projects and implementation of the on-going ones.
Apart from this, challenges like security issues, power crisis in USF projects’ areas, increase in costs (inflation, rupee exchange rates) etc. are some of the major challenges which are in our focus.

TT – You had been professionally associated with Navy Directorate in GHQ for defense network project. What experiences will you brought in for bringing telecom revolution to all corners of Pakistan from such assignment?
AS – The biggest common factor among both the job assignments is that a person is directly involved in making a contribution towards the society. I feel serving the Naval forces develops a strong patriotism within a person which is pertinent for working on a assignment like my current one. Both the jobs require sheer devotion and dedication along with being sincere to your work and nation.

TT – Broadband Pakistan presently captures the major share in USF Fund distributions. How important is Broadband proliferation through USF for you?
AS – As you are aware, broadband is a key element of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction and is globally bringing a paradigm shift to the way people run their lives. It is also transforming every mode of communications, from entertainment and telephone services to delivery of vital services like health care.
One of the primary objectives being achieved by USF is delivering the social and economic benefits of ICTs to the masses through affordable broadband, thus helping to achieve Government’s objective of breaking the poverty cycle and eliminating the social divide.
I plan to devise mechanisms which will ensure that the on-going and new USF Broadband projects sustain this momentum plus, launch innovative and fast deployment projects to play our part in bringing up un-served areas at par.

TT – Accountability factor to handle USF Funds is another critical issue under discussion. What are your thoughts on this?
AS – USF is following and complies with PPRA Ordinance 2004. Along with this, USF also has a “Financial and Accounting Manual” which comprises the principles, policies and procedures for financial transactions. In order to ensure transparency, USF has already been and will be conducting bi-annual audits of the company also.

TT – Can VoIP solution be helpful to bridge the digital divide for rural and remote population in the country?
AS – In Pakistan, in order to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban societies it is essential to provide connectivity through technology neutral transmission (optical fiber, microwave and satellite) first. Then comes services such as Broadband, USF has already entered into broadband programme and achieved many milestones. Broadband facilities in rural areas will also cover the VoIP services.
In the Optic Fiber Programme. USF has so far connected 58 un-served tehsils with almost 3,960 kms of optic fiber cable.

TT – What additional transparency, evaluation and monitoring steps can be required to maximize USF Fund gains?
AS – I need to find out the existing practice and procedures being followed first. If need arises, we will address the missing links and improve them or take necessary actions to enforce these, so that the desired objectives of USF can be achieved in a more smooth, transparent and efficient way.

TT – Your major experience revolves around private sector. Do you foresee any change in your professional behavior as CEO, USF?
AS – Please note that I have an Engineering degree from NED University, Karachi and also have a successful and diversified professional career spread in both government and private sector. My professional career started with defense and afterwards I successfully designed, implemented and run multimillion dollar Telecom and IT projects. In private sector, I headed and successfully run two multinational companies in Pakistan (my last company is fully owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company), headed business development unit of third multinational, did mentoring and entrepreneurship as founding and chartered member of TiE Islamabad chapter and played leading and active rule in launching SAMENA Telecom Council for regional and international level.
Joining USF is no doubt challenging as it is also a combination of public and private sectors. Therefore, it perfectly suits my skills and experience. In short, my approach would be an amalgam of the positive sides of both public and private sectors.

TT – Few words about Teletimes International.
AS – As stated above, I am also a mentor and believer of entrepreneurship. When I met Mr. Khalid Athar first time (six years ago) he gave the idea to start TELETIMES International, I liked that concept of Khalid Athar and extended my full support (As part of my entrepreneurship).
As for Teletimes International, it has made its mark when it comes to the coverage of IT& Telecom news pertaining to the Middle East, Asia and Africa. I also feel it has a very big edge over rest of the magazines/publications by being the only tri-regional magazine focused towards IT & Telecom. Not only this, it also has to its credit, organization of some really useful and note-worthy events which turned out to be huge platforms of knowledge sharing and exchange of ideas between government, media and industry stakeholders.
I sincerely wish that Teletimes International keeps the people well-informed regarding IT& Telecom in future as well and achieves more milestones in time to come.

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