POST TIME: 8 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 8 February, 2018 06:41:34 PM
BTRC rejoinder on Robi's scam and our reply

BTRC rejoinder on Robi's scam and our reply

BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) on February 5 sent a rejoinder on a news item titled “Robi makes mess-up of balance sheet: 2nd largest mobile operator evades Tk 1,490cr in taxes over 18 years, says draft audit” published in The Independent on 16th January 2018.

Terming some information published in the news report and an editorial, which was published on the subsequent day, ‘misleading’, the rejoinder signed by Md Zakir Hossain Khan, senior assistant director, Media and Publication Wing, BTRC said, “Many quoted texts or amounts published in the article do not have any symmetry or similarity with the report that was furnished by the Auditors. To give a few examples, the audit report does not mention an evasion of BDT 1,490 crore for tax and other payables anywhere. The audit report also does not mention any violation of spectrum in the 1800 band and depriving the government of BDT 350 crore thereof. We also find that the reporter mentioned issues such as VAT on merger fee etc. which had no reference to the audit report.”

The Independent report is based on accounts from sources with government offices and industry insiders, who were privy to the draft audit documents until the first week of January 2018.

According to the paper’s multiple sources until the draft was submitted to BTRC and was handed over to Robi Axiata subsequently for its reply, the telecom operator in question, Robi Axiata Limited, evaded Tk 1,490 crore in taxes and other payables over a period of 18 years. However, no official on record did mention the total figure mentioned in the draft audit until the first week of January.

But, it is mentioned in 16 January news report where BTRC Chairman Dr Shahjahan Mahmood told The Independent, “Yes, we’ve got the draft audit report that clearly identifies tax evasions of big amount.” However, Mahmood did not divulge the amount of tax evaded, saying, “Before finalisation of the report I cannot disclose the figure.”

“But I can tell you that upon receipt of the draft audit report we’ve already sent it to Robi Axiata to explain the irregularities. The operator has sought some time to reply,” Mahmood added.

Again the newspaper’s multiple sources confirmed Robi used more spectrum than approved in 1800MHz band, depriving the government of Tk 350 crore. The Independent did not say that issues such as VAT on merger fee etc were mentioned in the draft audit commissioned by BTRC. Rather, it was mentioned as references.

The 16 January printed report said: “Apart from the tax evasion figure of Tk 1,490 crore, the NBR (National Board of Revenue) on November 05, 2017 demanded Tk 925 crore from Robi Axiata in unpaid value-added tax after discrepancy was found between its own records and the mobile operator’s database. The Large Taxpayers Unit of the NBR analysed data stored in Robi’s computers and its submitted returns from January 2013 to December 2016, and found that the operator did not pay Tk 553.61 crore in VAT and Tk 158.20 crore in VAT at source.”

Other references such as Robi’s fine payment of Tk 145 crore for dodging revenues by transferring phone calls abroad using illegal VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) in November 2007 was also mentioned.

The rejoinder also said, “The article claims certain points to have been reported in the draft audit report of Robi Axiata Limited. It is to be noted that BTRC has not yet published any content of the audit report to any media. Neither any member of the Audit Committee nor the Director General of the Engineering & Operations Division gave any interview to a journalist about this report.

As a normal course of compliance monitoring, BTRC has been conducting information system audits of the mobile phone operators. Currently, two audits are ongoing — one for Grameen Phone Limited and another for Robi Axiata Limited. None of them are yet completed fully. It should also be understood that it is not a professional practice to quote from a draft audit report in a newspaper. The referred audit report is a confidential document and cannot be reproduced in part or full without written permission from the Commission.”

Yes, it is true that BTRC has not yet published any content of the audit report to any media. But as a watchdog it is the very role of media to publish reports on corruption and crimes.

Newspapers or other media outlets as a whole do not wait for official disclosures for investigative reports rather they rely on multiple sources or whistleblowers. Let us quote www.oxfordreference.com for a definition of investigative journalism: “1. Journalism that does not merely report an ‘official’ news agenda but researches stories that become newsworthy when brought to the attention of the public. Typically these stories concern ethical wrongdoing such as government or corporate scandals, a famous example being the Washington Post reporting of the Watergate scandal which led to the impeachment and resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. 2. A form of popularist television journalism where the reporter (typically with hidden camera and microphones) is placed in potentially dangerous situations.”

In this particular report involving Robi Axiata, The Independent reached all stakeholders concerned to get their versions. Robi, a joint venture between Axiata Group Berhad of Malaysia, Bharti Airtel Limited of India and NTT DoCoMo Inc of Japan, did not send official comments.

The spirit of the investigative report printed on 16th January is to let readers know the amount of money evaded by Robi. The regulator, BTRC, took initiatives to audit accounts of all mobile phone operators whether the mobile operators are complying with the licence conditions, paying the correct taxes and fees, and sharing revenues with the regulator and other agencies way back in 2011.

We hope this report on Robi as an independent media report will help the government take stringent measure against corruption. It is common that news media make reports taking clues from published/unpublished/draft government documents.

Let us have a look at the recent investigative news reports published in newspapers in Bangladesh. Hallmark loan scam involving misappropriation of around Tk 4,500 crore in 2012, Bismillah Group scandal involving some Tk 1,100 crore in 2015 and BASIC Bank scam in 2015 are few examples of newspaper reports unveiling graft. Even the central bank heist of $81 million by international hackers in 2016 was first reported in media.

These media reports did not wait for official permission and the reports also quoted unpublished and classified official investigation documents.




Scan the QR code to read Jan 16 report on Robi scam





Related News:

Robi makes mess-up of balance sheet (16-01-2018)

Robi under NBR fire (08-02-2018)

Media can publish reports based on draft audit docs (08-02-2018)