In an unprecedented move, the Telenor Group that owns Bangladesh’s mobile phone operator Grameenphone has served a legal notice to the President of Bangladesh Md Abdul Hamid through a Singapore law firm.
This is to seek arbitration over a Tk 12,580 crore payment dispute, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar disclosed this at a meeting with Telecom Reporters' Network Bangladesh (TRNB) at secretariat in Dhaka on Thursday.
“This is really unfortunate,” he said. “It is unacceptable that a company running its business in Bangladesh will send a legal notice to our president and put pressure on us to go for arbitration. The highest authority of the government is aware of the notice’.
Former state minister of posts and telecommunications Tarana Halim does not see any scope to serve legal notice to the President.
“As per our law there is no option to serve legal notice to honorable President. Since it’s an issue of the court, so the court will decide the matter,” she told Bangladesh Post when asked.
Mustafa Jabbar, however, said there is nothing to be worried about the development. “We shouldn’t be worried about the notice because all they want is to go for arbitration, to which we’re open. In Bangladesh, one has to file a case in the court and wait. There’s no scope for out-of-court arbitration.”
“We can have arbitration if the court orders us. They can’t seek justice in any other country defying the law of the land where they’re running business. We’re on the right path,” he added.
The minister also said that the mobile phone operators may opt for going to the international court if there is no arbitration. However, they cannot escape from paying the dues even with the interference of the international court. The dispute can only be resolved according to the local law.
“The court ordered GP to pay Tk 2000 crore. But they don’t follow the court verdict. However, we are sympathetic to them and willing to have a discussion. We’re open to any initiative without harming our national interests,” Jabbar said.
The minister also said that mobile phone operator Robi is also trying to go for an arbitration by withdrawing their lawsuit against Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
There is a long-standing dispute between the BRTC and telecom service providers Grameenphone and Robi.
GP owes Tk12,579.95 crore in dues to the government, including Tk4,085.95 crore to the National Board of Revenue (NBR), while Robi owes a manageable Tk867.23 crore to the government, including Tk197.21 crore to the NBR.
The dispute came to a head when the BTRC attempted to cancel the operators' 2G and 3G licenses after limiting their bandwidth and stopped issuing them any no-objection certificate.
Mobile phone operators Grameenphone and Robi filed two cases respectively on August 25 and 26 this year with the Dhaka Civil Court, accusing the BTRC of its allegedly faulty audit report exaggerating the dues of the operators.
On November 24, the Supreme Court directed Grameenphone to pay Tk 2,000 crore, around 10 times higher than what the carrier was willing to pay as adjustable deposit, to the telecom regulator. The SC also ordered the leading mobile operator to pay the amount within the next three months. However, BTRC, demanded payment of fifty per cent of the audit claim.
The SC also said that if the Tk 2,000 crore was not paid in three months, it would stay the High Court order which issued an injunction on BTRC’s move to realise the total sum.
BTRC lawyer Khandaker Reza-E-Raquib told reporters that there would be no legal bar for the telecom regulatory authority to taking any action against GP if it failed to pay the amount in the stipulated period.
‘The BTRC is now happy with the court’s directive,’ he said. Earlier, on October 17, the telecom ministry approved a BTRC proposal to appoint administrators to GP and another mobile company, Robi, over the non-payment of audit claims.