Failing to submit royalties collected from the four local telecommunication providers in the past 13 years, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) now owes the BVI government approximately $23 million.
Speaking in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Premier Andrew Fahie said the huge debt accumulated under the previous boards and management of the TRC.
He said the TRC collected $25,044,047.60 worth of royalties from the territory’s four telecom providers between 2007 and 2020. However, only about nine percent of that sum was submitted to the government.
“Under the provisions of the Act (Telecommunications Act 2006), the proceeds from the industry levy is supposed to be used by the TRC to fund its operational expenses. The surplus funds, including royalties, should have been paid to the government for deposit into the Consolidated Fund or as directed by the minister,” the Premier explained.
He, however, said nothing was handed over to government, “except for the $2 million that was collected this year and paid over to the government to be allocated towards public road-paving and associated equipment purchases and also towards the East End/Long Look Sewerage Project, along with $250,000 which was paid into the Consolidated Fund some years ago”.
$28 million in uncollected industry levy
The Premier also said the TRC was using the royalties collected to fund the operational expenses of the Commission.
He said there were no surplus monies left over because the Commission had failed to collect in excess of $28 million of industry levy from the telecom providers for more than a decade.
“I am advised [that] the cumulative sum of industry levy that should have been collected from 2007 to the present – for financial year 2006 coming forward annually – is $28,164,438.15,” Fahie stated.
“Of this sum, $4,249,009.12 was billed by the TRC for the current 2019-2020 period and the collection of these funds is underway,” he added.
Telecom providers failing to submit audited statements
Premier Fahie also noted that the TRC was not to be fully blamed for the non-collection of industry levy, as some of the telecom providers obstructed the procedure due to their failure to provide audited financial statements.
“I am advised that the Commission was unable to complete its accounts and have it certified because some licenced operators have not been submitting their audited financial statements to the Commission over the years so that the necessary calculations could be done,” he said.
However, the Finance Minister said the recently-installed TRC Board has indicated that they are seeking legal advice on how to proceed with the collection of the levies owed.
He also said that with the majority of the telecom operators’ licences scheduled to expire in 2022, the TRC is aiming to bring all operators into compliance with all aspects of their license before that date