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Payments lagging as deadline for telecom fees approaches

An employee sorts out mobile phone SIM cards last year at a shop in central Phnom Penh.
An employee sorts out mobile phone SIM cards last year at a shop in central Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Payments lagging as deadline for telecom fees approaches

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has collected less than one-third of a set of annual fees owed to it by telecommunications companies by the end of this month, with more than 80 percent of the fees so far coming from a single provider.

Smart Axiata said in a statement yesterday that they had paid $3.5 million into two government funds that were established by the Law on Telecommunications in 2016, which require all telecom operators to pay a percentage of their annual gross revenue to the government. That $3.5 million is out of a total of $4.2 million collected by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) thus far, according to ministry data.

At a press conference at the MPTC yesterday, the directors of the ministry’s two funds said that only 11 of the 33 telecom companies who owed money from last year had paid so far, and noted that steps would be taken to recover the money if it didn’t appear by February 28.

Chun Vat, the ministry official in charge of the Capacity Building, Research and Development Fund, noted yesterday that his fund currently had $1.7 million, but he was expecting a total of $7.15 million when all operators had paid their shares. The fund requires companies to pay in 1 percent of their gross annual revenue each year.

Tol Gnak, who oversees the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), similarly reported that his account had just $2.5 million, while he expected “more than $10 million” to be paid in total. The USOF fund requires 2 percent of a company’s gross annual revenue to be paid each year.

The 2016 Telecom Law and subsequent sub-decrees set up the two funds, which have the broad purpose of promoting the development of infrastructure and services in rural areas, where companies might not otherwise invest, as well as promoting research and fostering new talent in the industry.

The two ministry officials declined to say which companies had or had not paid yesterday, noting that the deadline for payments had not yet passed.

In a statement yesterday, Smart, a subsidiary of Malaysian telecom giant Axiata Group, said it had paid more than $3.5 million. The company called on its rivals to pay their fees, noting that “it is also vital that all licensees contribute to the Funds as required by Law” and saying prompt payment would “meet [government] objectives, prevent payments from being idle for too long . . . and maximize them for the betterment of Cambodia”.

The three largest telecom operators in Cambodia are Smart, Cellcard and Metfone. Representatives from Cellcard could not be reached yesterday, while a Metfone representative did not reply to emailed questions.

Cellcard is wholly owned by Cambodia’s Royal Group, while Metfone is a subsidiary of Vietnam-based Viettel.

Gnak from the MPTC said that while the ministry would work “softly” at first and help operators pay in installments, it would also enact punitive measures according to the law if necessary.

The telecommunications law says that any violation can be punished by a suspension or revocation of a company’s operating licence.

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