ISLAMABAD: The cellular companies/telecom operators have collectively raised their concerns with the Ministry of IT that the decision of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to block SIMs of non-filers was in undue haste and it will adversely impact the telecom customers.

The letter has also been forwarded to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) pertaining to the FBR’s Income Tax General Order (ITGO) issued on April 29, to block SIMs of 506,671 individuals who have failed to file their tax returns for the tax year 2023.

The letter by the cellular mobile operators (CMOs) said that they were obligated to provide uninterrupted services to their customers except in circumstances mentioned in the Telecom Act and applicable regulations, there are no instances wherein CMOs can disconnect or block the service of any customer.

“The ITGO being forced through with undue haste, will adversely impact the customers,” the letter added, “This will gravely impact the customers’ ability to get essential services which have now been defined as right to life under different judgements of superior courts.”

The letter said, “Besides the aspect of consumer protection was important with relevant constitutional provisions of basic human rights, Consumer Protection Regulations mandated operators that any suspension of service is subject to prior notice of such intentions, and in instant case the issuance of notice is not possible because of the legal defects of ITGO,”

The CMOs have suggested that any delinquent individuals should rather be sanctioned and penalised in a direct manner without involving and adversely impacting the telecom industry.

The letter further said that if telecom operators comply with the ITGO, the affected individuals may initiate litigation against the CMOs.

“The affected individual may even seek to recover special costs, damages & losses that he and she has incurred because of its SIM card being blocked,” the letter by the CMOs has said, adding, “It is unjust, unreasonable, and unacceptable for CMOs to be exposed to such a risk.”

It added that the telecom companies were one of the biggest contributors to revenue collection in country, and, before implementing such an orders, certain protections or indemnities must be given to CMOs through amendment in law to save from adverse consequences or claims by the customers.

The telecom industry has also added that the bulk blocking of SIMs would be an issue technically and CMOs would need to warn such customers multiple times before execution of any blocking through SMS messages, if required by law, as they have contractual obligations towards their consumers to provide advance statutory notice with valid reasons, which in this case are absent.

The letter added that the telecos have to develop internal processes and system development to cater for such requirement, which require reasonable time and resources, hence, immediate compliance of such ITGO is difficult.

The telecom industry also suggested that every individual is entitled to fair and equitable treatment with due process in accordance with the law, therefore, individuals affected by the ITGO should be duly informed through an extensive media campaign and provided with show cause notices, affording them the opportunity to present their case in a tribunal or court of law, it added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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Tariq Qurashi May 07, 2024 10:09am
This will not work, and will have a very high political cost for the government.
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