The telecom regulator is yet to appoint auditors to conduct financial and technical inspection of Banglalink and Airtel’s system even though the formal process has started more than a year and a half ago due to irregularities within the institution itself.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had invited expression of interest (EOI) on December 2017 and a total of five companies -- one for Banglalink and four for Airtel -- put forward their proposals in January last year.
The telecom watchdog wants to comb through Banglalink’s books from the operator’s inception in 1996 until 2017 and Airtel’s from its start in 2006 until its merger with Robi in November 2016.
After evaluating the audit firms’ proposals, a section of the regulatory commission now wants to repeal the process and start afresh, said BTRC officials on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter.
The bidders too have raised questions about the telecom watchdog’s selection process, they said.
The BTRC was supposed to first assess whether the bidders have the technical know-how to run the audit and then look at how much they were quoting for the job.
But the process happened in reverse: it looked at the bidders’ financial proposals and is yet to look at their technical capacity.
“Furthermore, the telecom authority included in the evaluation committee an individual who previously worked with one of the auditors that looked into the books of the other two operators,” said a senior BTRC official.
BTRC Chairman Md Jahurul Haque acknowledged the delay and even expressed his frustration about it.
“I also found the process to be moving very slowly. And after noticing the issue recently I directed the responsible officials to complete the process as early as possible.”
After completing the audits into two mobile operators’ books the telecom regulator is now confident about the process.
“We would be able to do the other two operators’ audit faster,” Haque added.
The audits into Grameenphone and Robi’s accounts were received by the BTRC in February last year and it has already made its claims to the two operators.
Grameenphone’s audit, which covered the years from its inception in 1996 through to 2015, initially found financial discrepancies of about Tk 11,530.15 crore and after a revision the amount claimed went up to Tk 12,579.95 crore.
The other audit into Robi saw the BTRC claim Tk 867.24 crore as missed or under payments from the mobile operator over a 19-year period until 2015.
Once Banglalink and Airtel’s audits are done, the telecom watchdog would move to state-owned Teletalk and out-of-operation Citycell, Haque said.
The telecom act asks of the regulator to run such audits from time to time and the BTRC allocated a fund for the process.