Companies Still Dispute Debt Figures
Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun said Wednesday he would continue to push phone companies to pay their debts, even if the private firms dispute the bills.
The minister said six companies owe the government $9 million right now, and indicated he’s under pressure to collect.
“Debt is debt,” he said by telephone. “If they owe us, they should pay what they owe. If they don’t pay, we have to ask them to pay. If we don’t ask them to pay, the Ministry of Finance would blame us for losing the revenue.”
Ministry officials have said the debts were mainly for use of the international gateway, which the ministry jointly operates for overseas calls with Telstra.
According to the ministry’s finance department, CamTel (018 prefix) owes $2.2 million, MobiTel (012) and Samart (015, 016) owe $1.4 million each, and Shinawatra (011) owes about $1.1 million. The rest is owed by TriCelcam, which recently went out of business, and landline operator CaminTel.
A top Shinawatra official on Wednesday admitted the company owes for international calls since October, but noted it had paid more than $5 million to the government in 1999 for previously accumulated debts.
“We will make payment for the rest soon, step by step,” said Virote Jenjirawong, Shinawatra’s financial manager.
Samart Chief Executive Officer Somchai Lertwiset-Theerakul reiterated Wednesday that his company does not owe money to the ministry. He provided documentation, including checks and bank statements, that he said proved Samart had paid the ministry on time, specifically in 1997. He said the ministry claims Samart still owes some money for its 1997 international phone charges.
“The money was withdrawn from our bank and we have not received any bounced checks…. Where has the money gone?” said Somchai, who adopted a less confrontational tone compared to earlier in the week, when he accused the ministry of financial mismanagement.
For his part, So Khun on Wednesday claimed two checks from Samart had bounced when the ministry sent them to the National Bank.
At MobiTel, a top official declined Wednesday to comment. General Manager Iain Williams on Sunday denied the company owed any money to the ministry.
“This is an internal problem that we have to solve with the ministries of Telecommunications and Finance,” Rakvistwong said. “We still owe some, but I cannot disclose the amount to the public.”
Operators claim it is difficult for them to pay for all international calls because many “bad” customers run away without paying.
for international calls.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)