Grameenphone yesterday alleged that the telecom regulator was trying to extort the company for Tk 12,579.95 crore, which according to the regulator was public money.
“We do not want to be extorted, we do not want to be under pressure, we do not want to be in the frontpage in the newspaper globally,” Grameenphone CEO Michael Patrick Foley told reporters at a restaurant in the capital yesterday.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission is trying to collect the money by intimidating the company, he added.
The money doesn’t belong to the regulator, he said.
In an audit conducted by the BTRC in 2016, it was claimed that the company owes the government Tk 12,579.95 crore in revenue shares, late fees and taxes. Of the amount, the principal claim is only of Tk 2,300 crore. The carrier maintains that the BTRC has not been able to justify the claim.
The rest of the total amount is mostly accumulated late fees.
Foley yesterday said that the audit process was incorrect, but did not explain how. Grameenphone is still seeking a clear, transparent and fair assessment of the audit claim, he added.
The company in August filed an appeal with a lower court in Dhaka seeking an injunction on the realisation of the money by the BTRC, but the court turned down the petition.
Grameenphone then moved the appeal to the High Court in October this year. The HC issued a two months’ injunction.
The BTRC then moved to the Appellate Division seeking a stay on the injunction order. Hearing of the appeal is scheduled for Thursday.
Foley hinted that the company might move to an international arbitration body to settle the government’s audit claim.
Grameenphone fully respects the country’s judiciary and hopes to get justice, Foley said.
However, being in the management, he cannot say what the shareholders will do if they are not satisfied with the verdict, he added.
“Investors and shareholders may have the option to make any decision, but from a management point of view, we want to resolve [the crisis sitting] around the table in an open and transparent way.”
The top mobile carrier of the country is a joint venture enterprise, in which the Norwegian Telenor group owns 55.8 percent, local Grameen Telecom 34.2 percent and the general retail and institutional investors 10 percent.
Of the general retail and institutional investors’ 10 percentage points, institutional investors own 7.95 and general shareholders 2.05.
As the largest listed company in the country, Grameenphone attracts a lot of international investors who have the right to seek international arbitration, Foley said.
The company contributed Tk 73,100 crore to the national exchequer in the last 22 years, he said, adding that Grameenphone shared 54 percent of its earnings with the government.
“We pay all our dues and are honoured that the Government has recognised us as Bangladesh’s largest tax payer for the fifth consecutive time.”
Grameenphone’s Deputy CEO and Chief Marketing Officer Yasir Azman said they intended to invest Tk 1,550 crore in 2019, but could only spend about two thirds of the amount as the regulator has not allowed it to expand its network or maintain its existing infrastructure since July 22.
He added that the company could not spend Tk 480 crore.
“Since we cannot manage our network, customers have started experiencing bad service,” Azman said.
The top executives said they were interested in settling the matter out of court and were showing respect to the decisions made at a meeting on October 21 with Prime Minister’s ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy.
But the telecom regulator is not complying with Joy’s directive, said Foley.
He said that at that meeting, it was decided that that Grameenphone would deposit Tk 200 crore in BTRC’s bank account while the audit claim would be reviewed by a committee, which would consist of seven members from the regulatory body, national board of revenue and the carriers. And no case proceeding would move forward, he added.
Hossain Sadat, head of regulatory affairs and acting head of communications at Grameenphone, also spoke.