The VAT call centre to support businesses with an instant solution has remained closed since July 2021, much to the unwary tradespeople's ordeal of adopting the new automated VAT system.
Opened in December 2016 by the then finance minister AMA Muhith, it aimed to supply all types of information and solution to value-added tax (VAT) payers.
The hotline number 16555 of the call centre used to respond immediately to any queries from VAT payers.
But the expiry of the Vat Online Project (VOP) on June 30 left the centre inoperative for a budget crunch.
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) has not renewed the contract of the operator of the centre, Digicon Technologies Ltd, as it was funded under the VOP.
Talking to the FE, a number of businesses said the call centre used to reply to queries urgently, but the NBR is failing this automated and simplified system.
Now, businesses have to visit and seek support from divisional offices that hardly serve sans money, they alleged.
The NBR, however, introduced another grievance-responsive 'VAT helpline service' which, according to the businesses, is inefficient unlike the centre.
The call centre better served the businesses as their BIN (business identification number) got locked, said 7-Star VAT Consultant Ltd chairman Md Hafizur Rahman.
"We got services within five to 10 seconds after complaining to the call centre… Now, such services are not available even within five to seven days," he lamented the fact.
The businesses were happy with the services of call center, he continued.
Under the VAT automated system, Mr Rahman says, BIN gets locked if a wrong password is entered and sometimes it occurs without any reason too.
Solaiman Parsee Faisal, VAT director of the Bangladesh Pipe and Tube-well Merchants Association, says small businesses can hardly avail automated VAT services. Now, they have to visit divisional VAT offices to avail services which are time-consuming, he adds.
"Small businesses don't know the contact persons at divisional offices to resolve their problems."
Kazi Mustafizur Rahman, customs bond commissioner and key person of VAT online system, said the call centre could not sustain for a fund crunch. The NBR decided to introduce this service of its own instead of spending for the private sector, he said.
It would buy some equipment to establish its own call centre within the next five to six months, he added.
"We earlier proposed to renew contact with the firm but the NBR didn't agree…," Mr Mustafiz said.
Another proposal has been made to launch a call centre of the government's own, he mentioned.
The official, however, said all queries from businesses in the helpline are being addressed every day.
Md Zobair Akbar, customer service and VAT consultant, and also a former Digicon official, said they used to receive around 2,600 calls from different businesses, advocates and bankers daily.
"We had a four-year contract with the NBR. Later, it was extended until June 30, 2021," he added.