Telcos Claim FBR’s Order to Block Mobile SIMs is Illegal

Telecom operators have asked the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to intervene to safeguard the interests of the telecom industry as well as its consumers with regard to the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) order to block mobile SIMs of non-filers.

In a letter to the IT ministry and PTA, telecom companies said that the order issued by the FBR is illegal and ultra vires of the Constitution of Pakistan and the Telecom Act.

“We are of the view that whilst the intention of the ITGO and Section 114B may be to penalize non-compliant individuals or to coerce or encourage them to come within the tax net the specific measure being adopted has not been properly thought through; neither a legal analysis, guaranteed constitutional rights, or a cost-benefit review has been undertaken by FBR before passing and implementing ITGO,” the letter said.

Telcos said that the Income Tax General Order (ITGO) being forced through with undue haste, will adversely impact the customers. This will gravely impact the customers’ ability to get essential services which have now been defined as right to life under different judgments of superior courts, it added.

Further, the letter said that the order is also detrimental to telecom operators’ rights and their ability to operate (both financially and otherwise), who are fully compliant with their respective tax obligations and are not at fault. Any delinquent individuals should rather be sanctioned/penalized in a direct manner without involving and adversely impacting the telecom industry, the letter said.

CMOs said they are obligated to provide uninterrupted services to their customers except in the circumstances mentioned in the Telecom Act and applicable regulations. There are no instances mentioned in the Telecom Act, PTA’s rules/regulations, or license conditions that require or obligate telecom operators to disconnect/block the service of any customer who failed to file a return in the specified or given time by FBR, the letter said.

If telecom operators comply with the order, the affected individuals whose names appear on the ITGO may initiate litigation against them, it added.

Through the letter, telecom operators have requested an inclusive consultation that engages all stakeholders to develop a way forward that protects both the revenue interests of the government and the commercial concerns of the telecom operators.

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