Finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Wednesday said they would solve the problems involving payment of audit claims by two leading mobile phone operators —Grameenphone and Robi — ‘mutually’ through discussion, backtracking on the government’s earlier stance on realising the dues as per the audit reports.
The finance minister made the statement while briefing reporters after posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar, National Board of Revenue chairman Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan and Grameenphone chief executive officer Michael Patrick Foley met him at his secretariat office in Dhaka.
As part of regulatory measures to realise the audit claims Tk 13,447 crore, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on September 5 served two separate show-cause notices to GP and Robi asking the operators to explain in 30 days why their 2G and 3G licences would not be cancelled.
In August this year, both the operators filed lawsuits with a Dhaka court raising legality of the BTRC audit claims.
‘We [the government and Grameenphone] are going towards an amicable solution which will be transparent and be acceptable to both the parties,’ Kamal said.
He said neither the government agencies nor the mobile phone operators would be losers in resolving the dispute over payment of audit claims.
‹We are trying to resolve the problems even if there is a risk of losing revenue,’ he said.
Kamal expected that they would find a solution to the issue within two to three weeks.
He said they would not go to court as they would settle the dispute through negotiation.
The minister said the mobile phone operators committed to withdrawing the cases filed with court.
‘If we pursue our disputes with them (GP), it might take a longer time and it might also hamper their business. So, the best possible avenue for a peaceful solution would be that they would pay us the dues and for that we would extend to them all necessary cooperation,’ Kamal added.
Jabbar said, ‘We are trying to resolve the problems for long.’
Echoing Kamal’s view, he said they would not hamper the business atmosphere and would resolve the problems mutually.
Mosharraf said 60-70 per cent of arrears of the mobile phone operators was interest.
But there is no amount of interest in the audit claim, said the NBR chairman.
Foley said there are certain issues which had to be resolved only through discussions and nothing else.
‘When we say amicably, we’ll remove all the obstacles and we’re now looking for a status quo. We’ll get to the table and try to deal it as quickly as possible in a transparent and fair manner,’ he said.
Answering to a question, Foley said they had always paid their dues to the government, which were justified.
‘I’m pleased now that we have come together to find out an amicable, transparent and fair solution to the issues around audit,’ added the CEO of the country’s top mobile phone operator.
In July, 2018, the commission issued a demand letter to Robi claiming Tk 867 crore in dues based on an audit report on the entity’s information system.
On April 2 this year, the commission issued to GP a Tk 12,579.95-crore demand letter based on an audit.
Although the operators were asked to pay the money in two weeks, they are yet to clear the money raising question over the audit findings.
Instead, the operators proposed discussions with the regulator for resolving the issue.
The telecom ministry and the BTRC, however, rejected the operators’ proposal saying that there was no scope for further discussion on the matter and the operators must pay the dues as per the audit claims.
On July 4 this year, the BTRC reduced internet bandwidth capacity of GP by 30 per cent and Robi by 15 per cent over the unpaid audit claims but restored the capacity on July 17 considering the sufferings of the customers.
Later, the commission halted issuance of no objection certificates to the mobile operators and auto-renewal facility for their voice and data packages.
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