ISLAMABAD: Jørgen C Arentz Rostrup, Executive Vice President (EVP) and Head of Telenor Asia has said that Pakistan would have to move towards creating a predictable business environment and a fair taxation regime for getting support for future investment.
In an exclusive online interview with The News on Thursday, the Head of Telenor Asia said moving forward, he sees that digital payments in Pakistan will keep gaining traction in the market and will continue to be an important trend.
He said they had seen a digital acceleration during the pandemic, a leap in adoption of digital services and a growing reliance on the digital ecosystem.
“In terms of upcoming trends, we have seen an uptick in demand for digital services, such as e-education, e-commerce, m-health and digital payments, which we expect to continue.”
In a world with greater reliance on digital services, he hoped that people would be looking to prepare for the future by building digital skills and digital literacy competencies.
“The biggest challenge has been ensuring the health and safety of our employees while ensuring that we keep our promises to customers so that they could remain connected,” he said. “The health and safety of our employees has been our top priority. We were one of the first companies to mandate home office as the virus forced major cities into lockdown.”
Telenor Pakistan, he said, has also been at the forefront of evolving the entrepreneurial ecosystem through Telenor Velocity as well as nurturing the gaming ecosystem through Gamebox. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Telenor Pakistan has also committed to training 2,000 women entrepreneurs, students and children on digital skills and design thinking through webinars as well as helping scale ed-tech start-ups with focus on STEM education under Telenor Velocity.
When asked what were the challenges faced by the telecom operators in Pakistan, he replied that the pandemic has made it clear that telecom and digital communication is basic infrastructure for any country; and “we continue to work with governments and policymakers in the markets that we operate in to facilitate the expansion of networks and services”.
“My experience is that Pakistan has some way to go in creating a predictable business environment and this is of course a concern for us. There are important issues still to be addressed that, once solved, will support the continued development of Pakistan and its digital ambitions,” he added.
Rostrup said, for telecom operators, spectrum pricing remains one of the key market hurdles that impede network development, and “we still see the need for policy reform measures that would lead to a spectrum price reset”.
Alongside this, the fundamentals for a stable business environment and a fair tax regime require the development of forward-looking policies that help ensure sustainable business while supporting future investment.
The initiative of the Ministry of Information Technologies and Telecommunication to address a list of tax issues faced by the customers and the industry with the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) was a positive signal towards establishing a stable business environment.
For Pakistan, the resilience of telecom networks and ease of access to the digital ecosystem would both be important factors in strengthening the confidence of foreign investors outside of the telecoms sector. Regarding three out of four telecom operators fighting their license renewal cases in court, and future investment plans in Pakistan, he said that high and disproportionate pricing negatively affected the overall business environment for telecom operators in Pakistan.
“As you reference, this is a challenge that we do not face alone. Telenor strongly believes that speedy resolution of the court process would help create a level playing field and therefore, be in the interest of people, government and operators alike,” Rostrup said.
In living up to the purpose of connecting people to what matters most, in these times of crisis, he said, “We have actively worked to support those facing the biggest problems due to COVID-19. Among other initiatives this has included the provision of subsidised and free services, offers and add-ons for consumers and business customers.”
It has also meant working in partnership with the Ministry of Education under the Digi Skills Program to offer affordable access to online learning platforms and free access to LinkedIn’s Learning platform. Regarding mobile banking in Pakistan, he said that Easypaisa started mobile financial services in 2009 to serve the underserved – today branchless banking services have grown in scale, deepening financial inclusion in areas where banks have limited reach.
“Access to digital payments is an important foundation for national Digital Pakistan ambitions, and there has been a significant increase in digital payments during past six months. As one example, between February and May 2020 Telenor Pakistan has seen a 36 percent uptick in our customers using digital recharge options,” the EVP said.
Consolidation aside, there were other ways to preserve value in the market in a way that benefitted customers, operators, government and foreign investors. “Aside from the spectrum price reset, we see room for a tax and telecom policy reform that would grow the affordability of the services and ensure preconditions for efficient network rollout,” Rostrup said.
In Pakistan, as for all of our Asia markets, our priority continues to be the provision of stable networks and connectivity while contributing to the digital advancement of society, he concluded.