The humbling of Grameenphone
The Supreme Court yesterday directed Grameenphone to pay another Tk 1,000 crore to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) within the next three months, in a development that can be viewed as a mini-victor of the country's leading mobile operator.
The Norwegian Telenor Group subsidiary has been locked in a locked in a bitter tug-of-war with the telecom regulator for the best part of the past 12 months over unpaid dues amounting to Tk 12,579.95 crore.
The regulator had tightened the leash on Grameenphone to get it to pay the sum, much to the detriment of the operator's business.
Now, it is bringing the matter to a possible close by paying just one-sixth the sum the telecom regulator was holding out for. On Sunday, the operator paid Tk 1,000 crore to the telecom watchdog.
The development though disappointed stock market investors: Grameenphone, which is the largest listed company on the Dhaka Stock Exchange, saw its share price slide 7.38 per cent after two consecutive days of rise. Grameenphone shares closed at Tk 299.40 yesterday.
Insiders of the telecom ministry said Grameenphone is now on a compromise mode and wants to avoid conflict with the telecom regulator to save its business here.
While Tk 2,000 is a huge amount, it will not impact their financials much, they added.
"It is a tiny amount for them," said Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of the telecom regulator, adding that had Grameenphone agreed to furnish the sum as per the court order two months ago all the furore seen in the past few weeks could have been avoided.
Earlier on November 24 last year, the SC directed Grameenphone to pay Tk 2,000 crore within three months.
"Tk 2,000 crore is not a matter for them as they are making about Tk 4,000 every year and they have also taken preparations for this claims settlement," Haque told The Daily Star yesterday at his office.
Also at yesterday's review petition hearing filed by Grameenphone, a six-member bench of the Appellate Division of the SC headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain also fired a round of warning to foreign companies: they must abide by the law of the land when operating in Bangladesh.
GRAMEENPHONE'S OPTION TO
ARRANGE THE SUM
According to Grameenphone's annual report for 2019, its reserve and surplus amount stands at Tk 2,123.26 crore after disbursing 130 per cent cash dividend against their 135.03 crore shares for the year.
The exercise deducted Tk 1,755 crore, leaving it with Tk 1,695 crore of the Tk 3,450 crore net profit it logged in for 2019. It had about Tk 430 crore from the previous year.
Contacted, Grameenphone in a statement said: "We appreciate that the Hon'ble Appellate Division has maintained the injunction. We will evaluate the order before further comments."
The carrier, which has 46 per cent market share, got an injunction from the High Court on the BTRC's move to realise Tk 12,579.95 crore from them on October 17 last year.
The BTRC later filed a petition with the SC challenging the HC's injunction order and following the petition the Appellate Division on November 24 last year directed Grameenphone to pay Tk 2,000 crore to the telecom regulator in three months.
On January 26 this year, GP filed a review petition with the apex court seeking its permission to pay Tk 575 crore in 12 equal instalments.
During the hearing yesterday, Grameenphone's lawyer advocate AM Amin Uddin and barrister Medehi Hassan Chowdhury placed documents proving the operator had paid Tk 1,000 crore to the telecom watchdog on Sunday before the apex court judges.
Then, chief justice asked the lawyers when Grameenphone will pay the remaining Tk 1,000 crore to the BTRC.
In reply, the Grameenphone's lawyers prayed to the court to give them six months more to furnish the sum.
The lawyers also said a title suit regarding the dues of Grameenphone to the BTRC is pending with the trial court concerned.
The SC granted them a three-month timeframe to pay next the instalment and said if the trial court finds in the final verdict that GP does not owe to the BTRC, then the Tk 2,000 core will be adjusted.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam and Barrister Khandaker Reza-E-Raquib appeared for the BTRC.