The long drawn-out conflict between the country’s top two mobile operators -- Grameenphone and Robi -- and the telecom regulator over unpaid dues amounting to Tk 13,447 crore is finally heading towards an amicable conclusion after Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal stepped in.
“We will resolve this within the next two-three weeks,” Kamal told reporters in a press conference at his office.
Kamal’s involvement came after he waded through the reasons for the ongoing slump of the stock market -- and the sinking stock price of Grameenphone, the largest listed company by market capitalisation, was a major reason.
In a span of five months Grameenphone’s share sank 30.70 percent to Tk 289, as its regulatory issues concerned investors.
This prompted the finance minister to call a meeting with Grameenphone Chief Executive Michel Foley yesterday.
At the meeting, Foley informed Kamal that the stock will continue to sink if its regulatory issues prolong.
As soon as his meeting with Foley wrapped up, Kamal summoned Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar, National Board of Revenue Chairman Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan and officials of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to his office.
Jabbar had a press conference scheduled at the BTRC headquarters later in the day but Kamal requested him to shift it to his office.
“If we continue with our claims, a resolution will take a long time and that will hamper the mobile operators’ business and restrict our revenue growth too,” Kamal said at the press conference.
According to the BTRC’s audits into the two operators’ books from their inception until December 2014, Grameenphone has Tk 12,579.95 crore pending and Robi Tk 867.24 crore.
Both operators vehemently dispute the amounts and are willing to fight the matter in court. Robi and Grameenphone filed two cases with a Dhaka court earlier on August 25 and 26 respectively seeking permanent injunctions against the telecom regulator’s audit claims.
“We will try to find out a win-win solution,” Kamal said.
Until then, Grameenphone and Robi will withdraw their cases and the BTRC will withdraw their restrictions on the two operators, according to the finance minister.
The two operators, which have 12.36 crore, or 76 percent of total active mobile connections between them, have not been getting any approval from the BTRC since July 22 for new services and packages and cannot import equipment to maintain their network. Both operators have expressed satisfaction about the new development.
“We have come together to agree to find an amicable, transparent and fair resolution to the issues around the audit,” said Foley, also the president of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB).
Some hard work remains ahead but the mobile operators are quite happy so far with the progress, he added.
Shahed Alam, Robi’s chief corporate and regulatory officer, said they believe that the much-protracted impasse in the telecom sector will finally come to an end, much to the delight of the industry stakeholders.
“Even though the government, our customers and we had to go through a major setback due to this unnecessary and very much avoidable impasse, we are confident that we can recover all the losses with the immediate resumption of large-scale investment.” “Digital Bangladesh demands that the telecom industry fires on all cylinders -- we are happy that industry’s engine will start humming again,” he added.
Earlier, both Grameenphone and Robi had demanded arbitration but the regulator denied them saying the telecom act does not allow it.The audit found the NBR is owed about Tk 4,500 crore but Bhuiyan yesterday said they are trying to settle the issue by way of alternative dispute resolution and the matter is in the court.
This leaves about Tk 8,500 crore owed to the BTRC and of the sum, late fees account for a major portion.
“So, they will have to work on it,” Bhuiyan added.