Telecom sector: Telenor unhappy with higher taxes, tighter regulations

Published: July 7, 2013
Taxes in Pakistan are already three times higher than in neighbouring countries like India. PHOTO: FILE

Taxes in Pakistan are already three times higher than in neighbouring countries like India. PHOTO: FILE


Amid a tightening regulatory regime and an increase in taxes, the chief of the second-largest cellular services company in Pakistan has said his group will reconsider its decision to participate in the auction for 3G spectrum licences and for investing in the country in the future.

A seemingly disturbed Lars Chirstian Luel, the CEO of Telenor, told The Express Tribune that mobile service providers “are not money-making machines.” He was speaking in context of the government’s decision to impose 5% more withholding tax on cellular services, “confiscation of the Universal Services Fund (USF)”, and the government’s decision to increase estimated collection from the auction of 3G spectrums to $1.2 billion from $800 million.

“I understand that the tax base has to increase, but we would rather see an expanded tax base rather than the greatening burdening of industry and individuals who are already taxed,” he said.

In the budget for this fiscal year, the federal government has increased the withholding tax rate from 10% to 15%. This is in addition to the 19.5% federal excise duty that customers pay.

Taxes in Pakistan are already three times higher than in neighbouring countries like India. “We think it is reckless to impose these taxes on the common man in the street, while those who have the ability to pay are not taxed,” Luel complained. He feared that the move will pressure the company’s revenues, as customers’ ability to spend has more or less reached its limit.

On the government’s hope that it will receive a minimum $1.2 billion from the 3G auction, Luel said that he did not see that amount realised when so much is taken in taxes from cellular companies. He said the 50% increase in price expectations for the 3G licence was wishful thinking.

“The value of the 3G licence is decreasing as more taxes and regulations are imposed,” he added. He also noted that Telenor has pulled out from bidding in other countries due to the high price of the auction.

He said he has made it clear to both the information technology minister and the minster for finance that the new government either has to take away some new regulatory requirements or reduce taxes, as both measures combined have made new investment less and less attractive.

“It seems that in every meeting we attend (with the Ministry of Information Technology), we come out worse off,” he said.

Leul also complained that the new government had “taken” the USF away from the telecom industry, in contravention to the Telecom Act. The industry is paying 1.5% of its yearly revenues in USF, which is supposed to be use to build infrastructure in remote areas, he pointed out. “Taking our money is a sign that regulatory regimes in Pakistan are becoming less predictable and also shows how the industry is treated.” He said the industry has proposed that the government now reduce tax rates in return for using the industry’s funds.

Leul also spoke at length regarding the regulations that companies want withdrawn, especially those that are hurting the telecom business. “Regulations like issuing only five SIM cards against one Computerized National Identity Card has limited the prospects for business expansion,” he added. “If we start limiting the number of SIM cards that can be issued, it will weaken my business case for 3G,” he added.

He further said that banning late night packages was an area in which the government should not interfere, as doing so would be in violation of human rights. He also remarked that the suspension of services due to terrorism threats was also causing huge revenue losses.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Faisal
    Jul 7, 2013 - 9:49AM

    Well done LC, right statement in my view, other companies should reinforce the lead taken by Telenor.


  • Clarus
    Jul 7, 2013 - 12:20PM

    “He further said that banning late night packages was an area in which the government should not interfere, as doing so would be in violation of human rights.”

    very well said haha.


  • Jul 7, 2013 - 12:38PM

    Regulations are good. Regulations protect the people from manipulation by the “big fat multinational corporations”!


  • Mr. Honest
    Jul 7, 2013 - 3:01PM

    Righly said by Mr. Iuel, keep on taxing the already taxed, more and more…. each and every individual who uses mobile phone will have to pay more tax now and fill the coffers of our corrupt governments whos apetite to spend is never ending…


  • Jul 7, 2013 - 3:36PM

    pakistan govt is confused and in doldrum about what to do and not to do


  • Reader
    Jul 7, 2013 - 7:26PM

    Can someone ask about tax in Norway and why there are no night packages here in Norway. Totally out of context.


  • Omer
    Jul 7, 2013 - 8:55PM

    you guys got his last name wrong!! it is I (eye) uel!

    very bad!


  • irfaniftekhar
    Jul 8, 2013 - 12:59AM

    From day one it was apparent that the government is confused and is seeking instant remedies to chronic aliments of its economy. When one deeply studies the governments tax net expanding maneuvers, it looks like what it is doing is ‘kill the middle and lower middle class with tax bullets’ and ‘leave the rich, especially the Zamindars, alone’. Let this government remember that what ever increase it gets in its coffers through burdening the poor, the country is not going to change for the better. Because all the money will vanish just as it has been vanishing for the last 66 years.


  • Zeeshan ali awan
    Jul 9, 2013 - 12:19AM

    I am agree with comments of Mr luel the CEO of telenor. Government should give relief to telecommunications sector rather than imposing high tax rate which is effecting the ultimate revenue of the companies and havy burden on consumer.


  • sid
    Jul 11, 2013 - 12:47PM

    Well Done Luel! at least you took the lead to raise these concerns where other companies were waiting for negotiating undertable. Governemnt should have done 360 degree analysis before implementing the taxes because they are ruining the only successfully running industry by these stupid moves. I totally agree that the government should stay away from the matters like night packages suspension like they are staying away from other matters that includes the vulgur indian movies in our cinemas and child labour etc.

    One of the reader has compared Pakistan with Norway. Norway does have around 47% tax but they give benefits to their people. the education, health care benefits etc are free. i am ready to Pay 50% tax if everyone my country is educated, have basic neccessities like food, shelter and electricity etc.


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