Grameenphone yesterday said it would go to courts to bring the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to table for an arbitration in order to settle the regulator’s claim of Tk 12,580 crore dues.
In a press conference at the InterContinental Dhaka hotel, the top mobile phone operator called the BTRC’s audit claim “disputed” and said it would serve a legal notice to address it through dialogue and arbitration.
GP also protested the telecom regulator’s suspension of the process to give any kind of approval needed to roll out new packages and service or import equipment as it looks to pile pressure on the operators to clear the dues.
“We believe dialogue and arbitration could be the best solution and that’s why we have sought it from the BTRC but it refused to sit,” said Michael Foley, chief executive officer of Grameenphone.
He said the BTRC’s move to stop giving all operational permit for the company is unprecedented. The operational hazards for GP would create trouble for the economy as a large number of subscribers, businesses and investors are directly involved with the operator, he said.
On Monday, the commission stopped providing service, import and other operational approval to GP and Robi, the second largest player, to realise the audit claims. Robi owes Tk 867.24 crore to the BTRC as per the audit claim.
Foley said, “We might have disagreements with the regulator but that should not put our customers and stakeholders into trouble. We have already requested the regulator to reconsider its decision and resolve the matter through arbitration.”
Hossain Sadat, acting chief corporate affairs officer of GP, said the operator has applied before the commission for an arbitration and 30 days have passed. As a result, that process has ended.
“As per arbitration law, we will now request the regulator with the help of a court to sit for an arbitration in order to resolve the issue.”
Foley said the regulator’s stance is also affecting the stock market as GP accounts for the largest stock in the Dhaka Stock Exchange, the premier bourse in the country.
GP’s share closed Tk 324 yesterday, whereas it was Tk 417 on April 1.
“The BTRC’s move will force us to freeze our investment in the country. The businesses related to us would suffer and their workers might lose jobs,” the GP CEO said.
The operator also raised questions about the audit methodology and the principle of the BTRC.
Sharing an example, Sadat said spectrum usage charges between 2002 and 2006 were paid based on the demand notes of the BTRC.
“However, the demand notes were incorrectly calculated in the BTRC audit. Now the regulator wants us to pay the additional amount for the said period.”
“On top of that, the audit claimed compound interest on the additional amount because of the delay in payment,” he said, adding this type of audit claim will tarnish the image of Bangladesh among foreign investors.
Foley said GP has responded to the BTRC’s audit claims within the deadline, which was April 2, 2019, but the commission specifically said the operator’s responses until February 20, 2018 were taken into account.
“We are gravely concerned that our responses to
the audit findings went unheeded and remained unsettled. This can’t be the stand of an independent audit and puts the spirit behind the entire audit process in question.”
“This also highlights the need to protect our legitimate right to avail ourselves of an arbitrative process.”