Collect every red cent - Paulwell
Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell says the Universal Service Fund (USF) must find ways to "collect every red cent" which is due to it from telecommunications providers that have not been paying over a universal levy to the Government.
As at March, some $68.8 million was recorded as being due to the USF for more than 120 days, representing a 178.1 per cent increase in the delinquency from $24.8 million in April 2012. The revelation is contained in an activity-based audit report conducted by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis. The report was tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
"This delinquency level of $68.8 million as at March 2015 represents 58.4 per cent of the total owed to USF for universal service levy," the report said.
Paulwell told The Gleaner that he has since summoned the board of the USF to a meeting for them to work out ways to collect the money.
"I want to make sure that we maximise all the potential revenues coming in. I am very concerned that we would have revenue out there that is not being aggressively pursued and collected," Paulwell said.
He said that the board will be instructed to "look at what they need to do in terms of resources for them to be far more proactive, to collect every red cent that is out there".
The USF is funded from a levy imposed on telecommunications providers for the terminating of telephone calls in Jamaica. All domestic network operators are obliged to collect a universal service levy on all inbound international voice telephony calls terminated to fixed lines (US$0.03 per minute) and mobile lines (US$0.02 per minute) and hand over to the Government.
But Monroe Ellis found that some terminating carriers did not faithfully submit the required Traffic Report on a timely basis. She said that of the 43 expected reports to be received from carriers for the period April 2012 to October 2015, only one carrier submitted all the required reports, while the other two submitted 26 and 37 reports, respectively.
The auditor general also said that the USF records showed that amounts owed to the fund from universal service levy have increased from $81.7 million as at April 2012 to $117.8 million as at March 2015.
"We found no evidence that the USF issued demand notices to the delinquent carriers to settle the amounts. While USF informed us that up to September 2015, they have collected $52.5 million of the delinquent amounts reported at March 2015, they have not implemented formal policies and procedures to govern the process," Monroe Ellis said.
Paulwell said that the USF has been trying to put in place mechanisms to audit the telephone companies that have outstanding balances, "but I didn't know it was to that extent and therefore, they have to be a lot more aggressive".
The minister said that the USF provides "tremendous service to the country", noting that more than 230 community access points where people can get Internet service have been established across the country.
"We have applications for over 100 more. A number of agencies have been clamouring for assistance and we have to make sure that we have the resources to perform," the minister said.