A dispute between Bangladesh’s four private sector GSM mobile operators – GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Robi and Airtel – and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) over VAT on replacement SIM cards appears to be settled after the unpaid VAT bill was apparently slashed in a review committee’s interim report to appease the cellcos and ensure their participation in Sunday’s 3G licence auction, Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star reports. The NBR had previously demanded a total of BDT30.62 billion (USD396 million) in unpaid VAT on replacement SIM cards from GrameenPhone (BDT15.80 billion), Banglalink (BDT7.74 billion), Robi (BDT6.55 billion) and Airtel (BDT530 million), but the review committee – formed from the NBR, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB, including all six of the country’s cellcos) – cut the bill down to around one-twelfth of its original scale, to BDT2.51 billion (USD32.5 million). According to the report the dues are now broken down as: GrameenPhone BDT1.94 billion (77% of the entire bill), Banglalink BDT374 million, Robi BDT196 million and Airtel less than BDT2 million.
The NBR previously argued that the operators had dodged tax when reselling SIM cards during July 2009 to December 2011, but the cellcos refuted the claim on the basis that the SIMs in question were issued as replacements for lost or damaged ones. Sunil Kanti Bose, chairman of the BTRC, said that the review committee re-examined the SIMs according to a formula prescribed by the NBR, and the interim reports were accepted by all parties concerned. ‘After the 3G auction [in which all four private GSM operators received licences on 8 September], we will sit with the government to finalise the matter,’ Bose added.