Grameenphone yesterday demanded that the telecom regulator withdraw its recent claim of Tk 12,579.95 crore from the operator, terming the unpaid amount unearthed by audit as “unfounded and without any legal basis”.
Earlier on April 2, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued a demand letter against Grameenphone claiming Tk 8,494.01 crore and another Tk 4,085.94 crore for the National Board of Revenue, to be paid within 10 working days.
The claim came after the information and systems audit, conducted by Toha Khan Zaman & Co., on the country's leading operator's books from its inception in 1997 until June 2015.
Originally, following the audit report the government last year claimed Tk 11,530.15 crore -- an amount that was disputed by Grameenphone. The operator requested the BTRC to revisit the figures once again, which the telecom watchdog agreed to.
In the revision, the principal amount declined by about Tk 15 crore. Since more time has elapsed the interest on the principal amount has increased and hence the higher amount, according to BTRC Chairman Md Jahurul Haque.
The interest amount was Tk 5,129.16 crore in the audit report placed last year. The new interest amount is Tk 6,194.30 crore.
Operators have to pay 15 percent interest if they fail to pay their dues within the deadline as per rules.
Grameenphone's dispute with the telecom watchdog began in 2011, when Tk 3,034 crore was claimed following an audit into its book from its inception until 2011.
The operator had disputed the deployment of the auditor and took the matter to courts and prevailed: the Supreme Court declared the appointment illegal.
The telecom regulator's position on the claim remains ambiguous: it is neither withdrawing the claim nor pressing for the payment. It has remained mum on the matter to date.
Now, the BTRC has raised fresh claim for a period that overlaps with the earlier demand, Grameenphone said in a statement.
“Notably, the BTRC continues to defend the earlier demand for the period of 1997-2011 at court.”
Subsequently, the operator has requested that the demand be withdrawn and discussions be held with a view to finding an amicable resolution.
About the NBR's portion of the demand, representing approximately 32 percent of the total claim, Grameenphone also pointed out that the BTRC has no authority to raise any demand on behalf of the NBR.
“Throughout the entire audit process we have consistently pointed out the flaws in this audit exercise. However, our observations have gone unheeded,” said Michael Foley, chief executive officer of Grameenphone.
Contacted, Haque of the BTRC said: “Our team had sat with Grameenphone before sending the demand letter.”
Grameenphone also keeps the right to apply before the commission to revise the process and to find an amicable solution but from the BTRC's perspective it has completed all the formalities, he added.
A senior official of the telecom regulator said Grameenphone was not cooperative with the auditing firm and even barred the auditors from entering into its system.
But Foley said the operator extended “full cooperation” to the auditors.
As the majority shareholder of Grameenphone, Telenor is deeply concerned with the apparent disregard for due process and sound dialogue displayed by the regulator, said Marcus Adaktusson, head of public affairs for Telenor in Asia.
“The uncertainty created by the BTRC is detrimental not only to local shareholders, but also hampers overall confidence in Bangladesh as a place for foreign investments,” he added.
Norwegian Telenor has a 55.8 percent share of Grameenphone and Grameen Telecom 34.2 percent. The remaining 10 percent of the shares belong to retail and institutional investors.
Earlier, the regulator claimed Tk 867.24 crore from the country's second largest operator Robi as missed or under payments over a 19-year period, detected after a thorough audit.
Robi is yet to furnish the amount, saying the grounds on which the claims were made by the auditor were sub-judice.