After award revealed, minister Saifuddin backtracks on own directive for spectrum band allocations

Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is facing mounting allegations of cronyism over how the spectrum width for 5G internet was carved out and awarded to five telecommunication service providers that critics said lacked transparency. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah has cancelled his own decision on the spectrum band allocation to five service providers, shortly after his directive to the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) was revealed and came under scrutiny.

The communications and multimedia minister said he had ordered the cancellation on technical and legal grounds, while asserting “the need for a transparent process” into the allocation process, now subject to a review.

“As we all know, the management and allocation of spectrum is extremely important for national development,” he said in a statement issued this evening.

“In relation to that, 18 instruments including the Order and Decision regarding the use of spectrum band frequencies of 700MHz, 900MHz, and 2600MHz was presented to me,” he added.

“Based on the technical and legal issues and the need to for a transparent process, I have directed the MCMC chairman to cancel the Order and Decision and to review the instruments immediately.”

Saifuddin is facing mounting allegations of cronyism over how the spectrum width for 5G internet was carved out and awarded to five telecommunication service providers that critics said lacked transparency.

A letter detailing his directive for the MCMC to distribute the spectrum band to the companies has prompted accusations of foul play.

It is unclear from the minister’s statement if the move to call off the order suggests he had changed his mind, disagreed with or was not party to the decision.

Detractors have asked if the decision was done via open tender. In a public inquiry process held in June last year, the commission proposed several guidelines for the allocation that included awarding the spectrum through open bidding.

In the original directive, Saifuddin had specified the band width that would go to each of the five companies: Celcom Axiata Berhad, Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, Maxis Broadband Sdn Bhd, Telekom Malaysian Berhad, and Altel Communications Sdn Bhd — the last one a fledgling firm owned by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Albukhary.

The minister had issued the order under Section 7 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the letter had stated.

The prioritisation for contract recipients was done under Section 174 of the same Act.

MCMC had said in January this year that it would adopt “an innovative and forward-looking approach” on the allocation of spectrum bands that would lay the work for the country’s transition toward 5G.

The allocation would be done via an open tender process, it said.

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