ISLAMABAD: By Usman Cheema – Why to risk life like drug dealers to mint money when more profitable and safe ways are available to make billions of rupees every year i.e. by installing illegal gateway exchanges.
Huge amount of money, which should have been collected by the government in form of taxes, is being stolen by the grey traffickers and that amount is at least Rs 20 billion per year. And, the important thing is that there is no risk involved in this booming illicit business. After the government increased incoming calls charges on the international calls landing in the country to maximise its financial gains, it actually provided an opportunity to white-collar criminals to use the loopholes of the system and fill their pockets as much as they could. In 2012, Ministry of Information Technology seemingly established a cartel under the name of International Clearing House headed by PTCL while taking on board the 14 LDI operators in the country. Incoming call charges were increased from $1.25 cents per minute to $8.80 cents in which the government’s share under the name of USF was $2.90 cents. Right after the imposition of new rates the figures of international calls through legal channels started coming down and the grey traffickers became active, rapidly installing illegal exchanges. These grey traffickers make their own agreements with the international telecom operators and receive all the amounts themselves against the call landing facilities provided to those operators.
The impact of grey trafficking started appearing right after as in 2012 more than 16 billion minutes landed in the country through legal channels that means more than 1.3 billion minutes on average per month. Due to increase in grey trafficking, these minutes came down to around 600 million per month in 2013. Furthermore, they have decreased to 550 million presently.
It is pertinent to mention here that the government implemented the new rates and policies but on the other hand PTA was not provided equipment to control grey trafficking and that has been done few months back, and still the custodian of that equipment is not PTA but the intelligence agencies. Now considering 700 million minutes as average decrease in incoming calls, the government is being fleeced by at least $210 million or more and also facing huge loss in terms of collection of taxes that was supposed to be collected on these calls. Though as per experts, grey trafficking is not the only reason behind this decrease in traffic. Other reasons like lesser calls from abroad due to increased rates and increase in use of skype and viber are also to be blamed, but still grey trafficking is considered to be the bigger reason. Even an LDI operator itself was found involved in grey trafficking and earlier an official of FIA was found involved in the same mouth-watering business. Interesting thing is that the official managed to get cleared his charges and is still on job.
As per sources, the government and the people of Pakistan are real losers in this situation as PTCL and 14 LDI operators are earning more than ever due to increase in landing charges but the government could not fulfill its purpose of introducing ICH policy that was to increase financial gains in terms of foreign exchange.
So it is a win-win situation for the grey traffickers and the LDI operators but the government needs to review its current policy as facilitating the thieves must not be the policy of any government.
courtesy: The Nation