The amount that Grameenphone wanted to pay to the telecom regulatory authorities just four days back – Tk100 crore – and the amount they finally paid yesterday has a difference of ten times.
Earlier, GP had said it owed nada to the regulator, rubbishing the latter's demand of Tk12,579 crore. Then it went on dragging the issue on various pretexts until all efforts were exhausted and it knew that unless it pays up, the government will definitely appoint an administrator to the largest telecom company.
This saga of paying dues has taught us quite some lessons.
First, by making the payment, GP has finally accepted that it had avoided paying its dues to the government on account of various charges. Otherwise why should it pay something that it does not owe to the regulators?
The regulator's claim from GP is for the last 20 years. So it shows for this long period of time, GP had been evading its dues which as a compliant, law-abiding company it should not have.
GP's former CEO Michael Foley, only the other day, made the serious statement at a media briefing that "the BTRC is wrongfully trying to force us to pay the amount by falsely claiming it as 'public money'".
So now it suddenly wants to pay the 'falsely claimed' money without further ado!
But not before it had made several offers of various amounts to the regulator. As if what is due to it is a matter of negotiations and compromise deals.
In the same briefing, Foley made another oft-repeated lame statement – that it pays a huge amount as tax to the government.
How does it matter how much it pays? All that matters is whether it had avoided paying its dues in the past.
The charges against GP are serious – that it did not pay VAT on new SIM cards by claiming that it is replacing the cards. And the regulator says GP did not pay several service charges.
A similar situation had arisen in India too and just last week, with the government coming down heavily on telcos after a Supreme Court verdict, Bharti Airtel paid Rs10,000 crore to the telecom department towards statutory dues.
This GP affair also raises questions about why had the regulator not made its claims over such a long time? Why did it suddenly wake up from a slumber and made such a large claim? Businesses are not static things and they move on to forward planning and implementing policies. If a 20-year-old claim is made today, even the most competent company in all likelihood will find it hard to swallow.
But besides these points, what does this foot-dragging action of GP mean for us, the users?
GP had stopped investing in its network and equipment with this Sword of Damocles hanging over its head. As a result, call drops increased and data flow became slow like molasses. In fact, among the five telcos in Bangladesh, GP's data speed is the slowest.
So while GP bickered with the regulator, it could not care less for its clients.
However, yesterday's payment of Tk1,000 crore will not end the matter. GP has to cough up Tk11,579 crore more. And if the past is anything to go by, GP clients should brace for more troubled service in the future.