Bangladesh’s regulator is now seeking a solution to an ongoing tax dispute with the country’s two leading mobile operators following a request from a government ICT adviser.
The BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) claims to be owed BDT126 billion by Grameenphone and BDT8.67 billion by Robi Axiata following an audit of both operators’ finances conducted in 2017. The audit covered a twenty-year period, and the combined amount owing is equivalent to around $1.6 billion.
Both operators took legal action in a bid to avoid the fees by obtaining injunctions, prompting the regulator to issue show-cause notices in September this year which would force them to state their case for keeping their licences while refusing to pay their tax bills.
However, the BTRC has now said it will lift these notices – albeit on condition of the operators each paying a deposit, the amount of which has yet to be negotiated – and set up a special committee to bring the tax dispute to a resolution. The committee will feature representatives of each operator, the BTRC, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) and the Telecom Ministry and Finance Ministry
The turnaround followed a direct intervention from the GSMA’s director general Mats Granryd, who called on the government’s ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Ahmed Wazeb “to ensure BTRC is able to reconsider its stance on this matter”. Granryd’s appeal was prompted by the Bangladeshi government stating that it would despatch administrators to each operator in order to recoup the taxes.
While a end to the saga now appears in sight, with Grameenphone stating that it was willing to work towards an amicable settlement, one fly in the ointment could be that the operators may have trouble revoking their legal challenges. This is a prerequisite to finding any resolution to the dispute.