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Ministry calls on telecoms to pay up

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Revenues at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications declined by 26 per cent year-on-year in 2011 as the result of more than US$45 million in outstanding debt owed by the Kingdom’s telecom operators, officials alleged yesterday.

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Mobile, fixed-line and internet service protocol companies owed more than $16.4 million in fees as of December, according to data released by the ministry yesterday.

Private companies owed more than $15.6 million and state enterprises owed about $10.9 million. Telecom Cambodia’s debt was about $1.71 million.

Officials declined to name other debtors.

The erratic nature of the sector led to the shortfall. Bankruptcies, unauthorised name changes and a lack of collection resources left the ministry at a loss, Minister So Khun said yesterday.

“The rising of our debt was because some users or companies did not pay us on time. Others went bankrupt or shut down and changed business addresses without notification, leaving us with lots of money unpaid,” he said. “We don’t know how to collect [the debt], and we can’t leave it out of the report because we have to report to Ministry of Economy and Finance.”

Operators will not be forced to pay debts all at once, So Khun said. The ministry has devised monthly payment plans in an attempt to retrieve lost revenues, he said.

The ministry collected about $22.2 million in revenues last year, a decrease from $30 million in 2010. Debt figures released yesterday were the first ever from the ministry.

Officials were unable to comment on a starting point from which the debt was accrued. Telecom Cambodia attributed the state-owned company’s debt to late payments from clients.

“We’re in debt because our clients pay us late. Normally our customers pay us one or two months late after they receive our service,” the company’s general director, Lao Sareoun, said yesterday.

The company has received collection notices from the ministry and will be fined 2 per cent on the debt, he said, adding that Telecom Cambodia would push clients to pay on time.

Other operators either declined to comment or could not be reached yesterday.

Son Chhay, a parliamentarian with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said poor management and low efficiency accounted for the debt in a sector he claimed loses $100 million a year.

“They don’t have a clear measurement of revenue collection. This makes an opportunity for corruption,” he said.

The sector generated about $50 million in 1996 when there was only one phone operator contributing to revenues, Son Chhay said.

Since then, the industry has failed to develop, he claimed.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Kunmakara at may.kunmakara@phnompenhpost.com

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