Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Mobile operators evading SIM tax

The officials from the National Board of Revenue (NBR) have alleged that the mobile phone operators in Bangladesh evade SIM tax, by hiding the number of their actual subscriber base. The NBR officials said that some investigations of the board had revealed that lots of mobile numbers, from different operators, were found “active”, while as per their submitted database, those numbers were supposedly “inactive”.
And the operators are hiding the revenues generated from the calls made on those ‘additional’ SIMs, the NBR officials said.
The allegations were raised by a six-member delegation from the NBR, led by assistant commissioner Jakia Sultana that visited the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), in response to a BTRC letter, which was sent to the NBR on October 3, asking it to discuss the issue of unpaid revenues on SIM tax, of leading telecom operator GrameenPhone (GP).
As per BTRC audit, GP has an outstanding Tk. 887 crore to be paid to the NBR as SIM tax.
Sources from that meeting between the BTRC and the NBR said that the NBR representative lauded the regulator’s first-ever attempt at auditing the telecom operators and termed the findings of the Grameenphone audit “successful”.
At that meeting, an NBR official told the BTRC chief Maj.-Gen. Zia Ahmed that even after repeated reminders, the country’s mobile operators did not share full information on their subscriber database.
The NBR official said different mobile operators have been saying that a number of their sold SIMs become ‘inactive’ when the subscribers switch from one operator to another. But the operators usually don’t update their database of ‘inactive’ SIMs when those are re-activated by the subscribers; thus they hide the revenues generated from those. 
To check those practices the NBR had asked the BTRC to gradually conduct audits on every operator, sources present at the meeting, said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the BTRC had a meeting with the audit company Fazal & Co. Talking to The Independent, a representative of Fazal & Co. claimed that Grameenphone was fighting a lost battle.
The audit was a milestone for the country, as it was first of its kind in Bangladesh, said the representative, on condition of anonymity, adding that during the five-month audit, 13 years of financial documents of Grameenphone were meticulously analysed.
He also said that during the audit, they had four phases of discussions with Grameenphone, on issues that needed written clarifications.
The six issues that Grameenphone raised at their press conference had previously been raised during those discussions, and the audit firm had submitted the operator’s clarifications to BTRC, he added.
“Moreover, any complaints about the firm’s reliability in auditing technical matters are wrong. We do have a technical team comprising engineers who have cleared the technical issues before conducting the financial assessments,” the official said.
“In truth, technical issues comprised only 20 per cent of the entire audit process. These are primarily financial assessments, which we make using data provided by the operator concerned,” said the audit firm official.
“Our firm has been conducting large scale audits since 1971. Few days back we have conducted the audit of the civil aviation authority”, said the official.
Grameenphone sent a legal notice to the audit firm, on Monday, asking it to withdraw the audit within the next 48 hours. Officials from Fazal & Co., however, said that it would send a letter clarifying that the audit firm did not wish to make a deal with the telecom operator.
Meanwhile, BTRC had also sent a letter to Grameenphone, on Tuesday, declining its request to withhold the audit report. The Independent obtained a copy of the letter, which said: “In the meeting (October 10), on repeated request for clarification of their (Grameenphone) said six points, CEO of GP mentioned that they were not prepared. While asked to mention how much time they require to get prepared for their clarification, GP refrained from answering it but was insisting to withhold the notice of BTRC which is not acceptable at all.”
It went on to say: “However, the commission is still inclined to state that GP, if it feels necessary, may send its authorised members to the commission, for any sort of clarification with supporting documents.”
When contacted, a GP official declined to comment on the NBR complaint as it was not “official” yet. About Fazal & Co., the GP official said the telecom operator sent a legal notice for destroying the operator’s image through erroneous audit.
The audit firm was also distorting the truth, the GP official added. However, the official didn’t clarify how the audit firm distorted the truth.
Meanwhile, about the NBR’s charge of SIM tax evasion by mobile operators, officials from different operators declined to make any official comments. Officials from the major mobile operators however said that the claims of NBR aren’t true and this sorts of allegation distorts the image of the operators of the fastest growing and highest tax-paying industry.

-With The Independent input

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