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Govt refuses to waive Tk 1,633cr in dues

Nazmul Ahsan

The finance ministry has turned down a proposal of Teletalk seeking waiver of nearly Tk 1,633 crore as 3G spectrum fees the state-owned mobile operator was supposed to pay the telecom regulator in October last year.
Instead, the ministry asked the operator for initiatives to lessen its dependence on the already over-burdened exchequer and evolve a business plan immediately outlining its strategies to become a self-reliant profitable corporation like those of the private mobile operators, official sources said.
The stance of the government came during a meeting at the finance ministry last week to decide on the huge amount of outstanding fee that Teletalk owes and the subsequent request from the struggling operator to waive the entire spectrum fee, a finance official told New Age.
The finance division secretary Fazle Kabir presided over the meeting. The representatives from Bangladesh
Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd, post and telecommunication ministry and Bangladesh Bank attended the meeting.
‘No fee waiver and no let up in efforts to compel Teletalk to pay the fee to BTRC will be in place,’ a senior official of the finance ministry told New Age on Thursday, adding that the ministry did not want to encounter any repetitions of default culture afresh like the recurrent happenings in public sector banks.
‘The government is already over-burdened with huge revenue shortfall, mindless demands for fiscal stimulus from exporters and urgency to meet soaring capital shortfall surfaced in all public sector banks.’
The official, however, said they might consider waiving the defaulting company from paying 15 per cent fine on the total dues the company is liable to pay as regulations in this regard stipulate.
Teletalk has been enjoying a 10 megahertz spectrum for above one year, without paying any fees to the telecom watchdog BTRC. It launched 3G services in September 2012.
Teletalk had a total of 23 lakh registered subscribers till October last year, compared to relatively stronger bases of  Banglalink with 2.83 crore subscribers and 82 lakh for Airtel, although all the three operators began operations at the same time.
Banglalink, Robi and Airtel each purchased 5 MHz of spectrum for around Tk 800 crore for 3G operations.
Mujibur Rahman, managing director of Teletalk said their case was different from those of other private operators as the state-owned mobile operator had been rendering a good number of services to the citizens without any charge.
‘We rendered mobile services to areas like Hill Tracks districts, Sunderbans and coastal belts at the expenses of huge capital to ensure telecommunication facilities to go unhindered to under-privileged segments of the society, while other private operators shunned the areas for commercial viability,’ Mujibur told New Age.
Besides, Teletalk has been playing a precious role towards establishing a digital Bangladesh to translate into reality the vision of the government across the country, he added.
‘We deserve state support given our services to the nation,’ the top executive of Teletalk told New Age on Thursday.
He said they would soon submit their business plan to the finance ministry, along with list of services Teletalk had long been rendering without keeping any business perspective in mind.

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