Nepali Times: The restrictions on Nepal Telecom resuming its services since February First and starting new ones gives reason to believe allegations that you are being favoured by a certain power center.
Ajeya Raj Sumargi: We are on track to start our services, and those who make these allegations are on their own path. Nepal Telecom and us, we are both Nepali companies, we are willing to extend any cooperation necessary. We have come to Nepal at a time when most foreign investors have been scared off. I am confident the Nepali people and consumers will understand this.
But the controversy doesn't die down.
You have to remember we acquired SNPL only two years ago. This tender was awarded in 2000 and it went to the Supreme Court. We actually resurrected a dormant company, paid royalty to the state and brought it to this stage. Many couldn't believe it. True, there may be some people who mistakenly think their interests will be affected by our presence. But we are bringing telephone service to a country where consumers have to wait hours to make a call. There are many rumours on the streets, we don't have to answer each and every one of them just because they are controversial.
But Nepal Telecom says it has suffered a lot because of you.
SNPL came into existence after laws were changed and free competition was allowed. Nepal Telecom was not in the dark about this and they should have apprised their clients and their employees about it and told them, 'look we no longer have a monopoly we have to upgrade our services'. Instead, they went for the blame game. And I don't understand why they have to suffer a loss just because we come in .There are 170,000 subscribers, they have only provided service to 50,000-why are they in a hurry to expand? You can't blame others if you are being irresponsible yourself.
When do you plan to start?
Before Dasain. We are busy setting up base stations, streamlining our billing system and testing our electronic equipment with a soft launch from 7 August. We have permission to provide the service nationwide in a phase-wise manner. We have an initial investment of Rs 2 billion and will start with Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, then Pokhara. After that we will expand nationwide.
Who are the main investors?
This is a joint venture with 25 percent of the shares held by Nepalis and the rest by non-resident Nepalis, foreign direct investment, and financing from with foreign bank loans. The foreign investors are Reynold Holding of Kazakhstan and Delta Trade of Cyprus. The local partner is Raj Group, which I represent, and I am also in the board.
What is the involvement of overseas Nepalis in this venture?
We have to thank Dr Upendra Mahato-he is someone Spice Nepal salutes for having convinced foreign investors to come in. He used his influence to coordinate the investors although he is not directly involved in SNPL. Internationally, the telecom sector is seen to have potential and if the state responds by creating the conditions, foreign investors will come in.