Grameenphone’s 17-year-old tender document that qualified it for licence mysteriously disappeared from the telecom ministry and the authorities concerned in the wake of the formation of the Grameen Bank Commission.
The Grameen Bank Commission set up last year by the government is investigating the relation between Grameen Bank subsidiaries, including the country’s largest mobile phone company Grameenphone.
The telecommunication ministry in a letter has recently told the Grameen Bank Commission that it failed to find any bid document of the GP on the basis of which the ministry issued licence to the mobile operator in 1996, a senior official of the ministry said.
The bid document is submitted in a prescribed form that includes drawings, specifications, timelines, chart, price breakdowns, etc. If any of the requirements are not provided in the prescribed form then it is considered to be incomplete and gets automatically rejected.
The Grameenphone bid document stipulates that 16% share of the GP will go to Grameen Bank or Grameen Telecom after a certain period of time.
Unless the bid document is recovered the relation between the two entities – GP and Grameen Telecom –cannot be determined, sources from the Finance Division said.
The GB commission scrutinised the documents of Grameen Bank and all other companies bearing the Grameen tag, like Grameenphone and Grameen Telecom. It also looked into their modus operandi, their status and relations.
After that it concluded that the mobile operator’s original licence obtained 17 years ago was illegal.
GB commission Chairman Mamun-ur-Rashid yesterday said the telecom ministry officials recently informed him that they could not find the bid or tender documents of Grameenphone submitted by Norwegian state-owned company Telenor and Bangladesh Telecom.
“As I interviewed Grameenphone Chairman Sigve Brekke about the relation between Grameen Bank and Grameenphone he assured me of providing with bid document but four months later the Grameenphone official told me that they did not say so,” said Mamun-ur-Rashid.
The commission chairman also said a former lawyer for the GP informed him that Grameenphone was not a legal entity.
Telecom Secretary Abubakar Siddique yesterday told the Dhaka Tribune that they had already provided all relevant documents to the GB Commission but the bid document was with the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) that failed to give it to the commission.
“The BTRC has not yet found the document and we have advised the commission to ask for it from the registrar of the Joint Stock of Companies and Firms,” said Abubakar.
Meanwhile, the chairman of Grameenphone in a letter told the commission and the Finance Division to drop the name of Grameenphone from the investigation being carried out by the GB Commission as what it said has no link or connection with Grameen Bank.
Earlier, the commission released an interim review report on the GP in which it recommended that the government should either cancel the mobile operator’s licence or turn it into a trust.
Later, it also recommended transferring Grameenphone’s 16% share to Grameen Bank as most of the GB owners are women.
However, Finance Minister AMA Muhith has recently said the government will not suspend the licence of Grameenphone as recommended by Grameen Bank Commission because the country is looking forward to boosting foreign investment.
The minister has also said the government is now working to resolve the dispute with the mobile operator and, if needed, will work with the Norwegian government as Telenor has a 55.8% stake in Grameenphone.
The commission’s interim report recommended cancellation of Grameenphone’s licence under specific circumstances, Muhith observes.
Telenor, which invested about $1.6bn in Grameenphone, has already denied any impropriety in obtaining the licence which was renewed without any difficulty last year.