…reiterates call for independent audit
GTT on Wednesday reiterated its contentions against it competitor Digicel, doubling down on it claims that Digicel was operating unlawfully and even evading millions in taxes by having an ‘unlicenced’ trans-border link between Guyana and Suriname that has been active for more than five years.
Releasing what it dubbed as an “operator analysis”, GTT compared its operating status, capacity, quality and the taxes it paid for a five year period against Digicel which GTT deemed throughout its ‘analysis’ as being unlicenced and operating illegally, among other things.
GTT said it “operates a reliable international service that contributes to the economy, employs over 600 Guyana workers and has the capacity to handle all of our country’s overseas traffic. Equally clear is the fact that Digicel operates an unlawful service and the public has little, if any, information about how it works or if taxes have been paid on it.”
The local telecommunication giant, that will soon lose its monopoly once the sector becomes liberalised, posited that “Digicel’s bypass operation has cost our country in lost tax payments. The damage to Guyana could be $30 million U.S. or more. The public needs to know if Digicel has in fact robbed our country of badly needed revenues by failing in its obligation to pay such a large sum.”
Moreover, GTT has reiterated its call for Digicel’s ‘illegal bypass’ operation to be audited by an independent and trusted organization and went one step further, indirectly calling on government to act in enforcing the law.
According to GTT “telecoms liberalization could be very positive for Guyana, but only if our laws are enforced and the public has transparency. GTT is providing this international service comparison to shed new light on this topic – however only the government has the authority ensure that the rule of law is enforced.”
Responding to the initial allegations raised by GTT, Digicel had released a response citing the issue to be “yet another irresponsible attempt by GT&T to deflect from the material issues that have now been brought to bear upon the company by the onset of liberalisation in Guyana.”
Digicel in its response had said that the court is the interpreter of acts of illegality and at “present there are matters before the court in which the court is called upon to make determinations in relation to the same issues. One such matter is the Constitutional Motion filed by Digicel against GT&T in which Digicel challenges the fundamental legality of GT&T’s authorisations to operate in Guyana and the extent to which these run counter to the tenets of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana.”
“It is Digicel’s view that it is only when the court has ruled on these fundamental legal principles can any determination be made in relation to legality” said the company.
According to Digicel when the telecommunications Bill is promulgated “all questions as to monopolies will become moot and consumers throughout Guyana can look forward to significantly increased levels of access to electronic communications services. The fact that GT&T should wait until this time to distract the Government as it continues to work feverishly towards liberalisation speaks volumes.”
Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes in March had said that the matter was engaging Government’s attention.
Furthermore, government had asked GTT to prove it has the capacity to meet the needs of most Guyanese, should there be a discontinuance of the Digicel link to Suriname.
She said the Telecommunications Ministry has been in active discussion with both service providers on the matter of the unlicensed transmission of voice and data traffic by Digicel, grounded in GTT’s claims to exclusivity over all international transmissions. Hughes said her intention is to arrive at a resolution that would be in the best interest of the people of Guyana.
However, she said Government’s approach to the matter should not be misconstrued to mean that is condones acts of illegality. “This has proven to be a complex matter, exacerbated by demands of the market for adequate voice and data services. Among the issues to be considered are whether GTT has sufficient data capacity to meet the needs of the market, and the degree of congestion of its network. GTT has been invited to submit relevant information and data to clearly demonstrate that (it has) the network capacity to ensure that the people for Guyana will not be adversely affected by discontinuance of the Digicel link to Suriname,” she explained in her statement.
According to Hughes, the Ministry believes that a fully liberalised and competitive sector would prevent the resurgence of claims such as those made by GTT.