The telecom regulator will issue show-cause notices to two leading mobile phone operators -- Grameenphone and Robi -- asking why their licences would not be cancelled for not paying audit claims worth Tk 13,447 crore.
The posts and telecommunications ministry gave approval to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to issue the show-cause notices on Wednesday.
“We will serve the notices next week,” Jahurul Haque, chairman of the telecom watchdog, told The Daily Star yesterday.
In the notices, the BTRC will ask the operators to reply within 30 days and then they would move according to the Telecommunication Act, he said.
The telecom watchdog has demanded Tk 12,579.95 crore from Grameenphone and Tk 867.24 crore from Robi as per the findings of the audit reports into the two operators’ books of accounts.
Both the operators have been demanding arbitration against the audit claims as per Bangladesh Arbitration Act 2001. But the BTRC remains non-responsive, saying that it would only follow the Telecommunication Act for its decision.
As per that section 46 of the Telecommunication Act, the telecom regulator can cancel the licence of an operator if it finds the operator’s response unsatisfactory.
“This is public money and there is some procedure to realise the amount,” said Jahurul, adding that they were only following the Act and relevant regulations.
Contacted M Hafizuddin Khan, a former comptroller and auditor general, said there was no scope of arbitration on a “government audit”.
“I think this issue will be settled in the court as mobile operators still have objections over the audit methods,” said Khan, also an adviser to a former caretaker government.
Officials of both GP and Robi told The Daily Star that they would try to convince the authorities to follow the procedure and move for an arbitration.
A senior executive of a mobile operator said they may even consider moving to the international court for a solution.
“The telecom regulator is not following proper laws…They are only trying to use their power to get the money in an unlawful way,” said the executive, requesting anonymity.
GP and Robi officials said they have invested more than Tk 58,000 crore (over $7 billion) in Bangladesh and now their investments are at risk.
Both the operators, which have together 12.36 crore or 76 percent of total active mobile connections, currently are not getting any approval from the BTRC about new services, packages and cannot import equipment to maintain their network as well.
On July 22, the BTRC decided not to give any kind of approval to Grameenphone and Robi to roll out new package or service or import network equipment -- to pile on the pressure on the operators to clear their dues.
Earlier on July 4, the BTRC had slashed Grameenphone’s bandwidth by 30 percent and Robi’s by 15 percent for non-payment of the dues -- enough to slow down their internet speed and raise the call drop frequency.
But the block on bandwidth was lifted on July 17 considering the inconvenience it was causing to subscribers.