The government has issued a new warning to telecommunications companies that have yet to deliver outstanding payments to the Kingdom’s ministries, giving regulators until the end of the month to settle their debts.
Cambodia’s telephone operating companies have been told “to settle any debts” owed to each of the two ministries by April 30, according to an announcement dated April 2 that was jointly released by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
The country has three large mobile network operators – Smart, Metfone and Cellcard – and three small operators, qb, Seatel and Cootel. On Thursday, officials from Metfone, Cellcard and Seatel declined to comment on the release.
In an official statement, Smart said on Thursday that it has consistently paid all taxes, licensing and regulatory fees owed to the Cambodian government – amounting to $65 million in 2016 and $76 million in 2017 – in a timely manner, and advocated its support for the ministries' recent announcement.
"We commend and support these initiatives, as they will hopefully result in all operators being treated similarly and competing on a fair basis in terms of offerings and future sector investments – a situation that will benefit the industry, society and ultimately the Royal Government of Cambodia," it said.
Still, the company said that it is important for the government to ensure its future tax and fee determinations for telecom companies do not limit the appetite for investment in the industry, stating that "by encouraging investments as well as industry sustainability, far greater benefits for the Cambodian government can be achieved".
Telecom companies in Cambodia have a long history of outstanding debts to the government, with officials citing millions of lost revenue since the early 2000s as a result of nonpayment.
Telecom Ministry spokesman Chun Vat said the “debt” refers to unpaid regulatory fees owed to the government based on each company’s specific operating licence and does not include tax revenue.
Vat said he could not provide any further details about the debt owed, and would not give an estimate of the total amount due.
Finance Ministry spokesman Meas Sokdesan similarly declined to provide any information on the amount of outstanding debt.
If companies do not pay the money they owe, according to the release, the government will publicly name and shame all delinquent operators via various media channels.
The release also states that the government will proceed to take legal action, including freezing company bank accounts, closing frequencies, freezing import-export activities, banning all public procurement activities, suspending or withdrawing licenses, including operating licences and radio frequency licences. An official lawsuit could follow, it says.
This is not the first inter-ministerial threat of its kind to be issued to telecom companies in Cambodia. An almost identical threat was released last year in early February, when the government outlined the same punitive action to be taken if companies refused to pay up.