'Waiving the late fees, fines and interest could be a good initiative within the legal framework to resolve the dispute. We have discussed the possibilities'
The government is planning to waive late fees, fines and interest amounting to around Tk6,746 crore levied on mobile phone operators Grameenphone and Robi in a move to collect the original audit claim of Tk6,700 crore.
A high-profile meeting held yesterday with Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal at the Ministry of Finance discussed the possibility of such waiver to end the stalemate.
Post and Telecommunication Minister Mostofa Jabbar and Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Chairman Jahirul Haque attended the meeting.
The meeting also discussed formation of a committee to resolve the dispute with the mobile operators.
A senior finance ministry official, preferring anonymity, said the government was serious to end the longstanding stalemate between the BTRC and the mobile phone operators.
‘Waiving the late fees, fines and interest could be a good initiative within the legal framework to resolve the dispute. We have discussed the possibilities,” the official told Dhaka Tribune.
“We will sit again soon to finalise our plan,” he added.
‘There were a lot of things tabled for discussion today. The government has the authority to waive interest amount and late fees. But no final decision has been made about the matter. The original amount, however, has to be paid,” BTRC Chairman Jahirul Haque told Dhaka Tribune.
“The finance minister will make the final decision," he added.
‘The government is looking for an amicable solution to the dispute. The operators can even pay in installments if such direction comes from the government,’ he added.
After an audit of the two mobile phone operators, the BTRC in 2016 claimed Tk12,579.95 crore from GP, leader in the country’s telecom service sector, and Tk867.23 crore from Robi, the second largest operator, in taxes and late fees accumulated over several years.
Of the total, the principal audit claim from Robi was Tk315 crore, and Tk6,385 crore from Grameenphone.
The operators, however, have dispute with the government about the original audit claims.
Asked about outcome of yesterday's meeting, the telecom minister told Dhaka Tribune that the matters were now pending with the finance ministry.
‘We are not the authorities here. The finance ministry will decide about the matter,’ Jabber said.
On September 18, the finance minister in a meeting with the two mobile operators announced that the longstanding dispute about the audit claim would be resolved within three weeks.
The telecom regulator had served a show cause notice to GP and Robi on September 5, asking them why their licences would not be revoked for their failure to pay the government dues.
BTRC officials said although the time for responding to the show cause notice would end on October 4, things might take a different course through finance minister's intervention.
On July 4, the BTRC slashed Grameenphone’s bandwidth by 30%, and Robi’s by 15% for failing to clear the dues.
But they lifted the bandwidth block on July 17 considering subscribers' inconvenience.
On July 22, the BTRC decided not to give any kind of approval to the two mobile phone operators to roll out new packages or services, or import network equipment in order to pressure them into clearing their dues.