The government is likely to impose financial penalties and regulatory punishment on mobile phone companies for their involvement in illegal VoIP operation which has deprived the nation of huge tax and revenue for several years, telecoms ministry sources said.The question is: were the mobile phone companies intentionally trying to cheat the Bangladesh government out of tax revenue, or were they just trying to meet customer demand and the government was indifferent to their needs?
Beginning from January, the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) has busted several dozen illegal VoIP operations and some of these surprisingly lead directly or indirectly to GrameenPhone (GP), Aktel and Banglalink. Further investigations are going on against other phone companies.
The government has already filed cases against the GP, Aktel and Banglalink for illegal VoIP operation.
These operations have deprived the national exchequer of an estimated annual overseas call revenue and tax amounting to over Tk 6,000 crore. Sources in mobile phone companies however said not that payment of all this money was evaded as they paid taxes for all the calls.
Sources in the companies also blame Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for its deliberate delay in issuing VoIP licences and Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) for not installing adequate International Trunk Exchange (ITX) to handle growing foreign calls over the years.
They point out that while phone companies were indeed involved in the illegal operation, the fact is there had been huge unmet overseas call demand that needed to be addressed on the one hand, and on the other, the authorities' suspicious dilly-dallying with VoIP licensing or ITX facilities pushed the companies to the illegal business.
Believing in the markets as I do, I will side with the mobile phone companies. The BTTB is notoriously inept as far as meeting the country’s insatiable appetite for telecom facilities is concerned. People much prefer to use mobile phones rather than the landlines provided and maintained by BTTB for the obvious reasons: price, customer service, quality, etc. Like many loss-making, state-owned entities—Biman Bangladesh, for example—it should be shuttered and the government’s role in this thriving industry reduced to that of a regulatory body.