Grameenphone-sponsorships are in breach with Telenor’s guidelines

In the last couple of days, questions have been raised by Norwegian media to Telenor ASA, concerning company-related issues currently under internal review or under investigation by local authorities. Today, Telenor ASA has published a press release in relation to these questions. This document is published in addition to the mentioned release, with the intention to provide a more thorough and detailed review of the issue concerning the breach of internal guidelines related to sponsorships in Grameenphone in Bangladesh. The other two issues were commented on by Telenor in April of this year.

As an international company, Telenor continuously handles issues in relation to our ethical guidelines – some of which are demanding issues. Telenor works with continuous improvements and will use these issues to strengthen this work going forward.

THE AUDIT OF 2013

  • Group Internal Audit of Telenor conducted a routine audit of Grameenphone in 2013, during which it was discovered that certain sponsorships were in breach with Telenor’s internal guidelines.
  • The most serious breach concerned a sporting event related to the Bangladesh Armed Forces.
  • The audit did not uncover that any payments were made to individuals.
  • The findings made by the Group Internal Audit were reported to Mr. Sigve Brekke, who at the time was Head of Telenor Asia and Chairman of Grameenphone.
  • In continuation of the audit in 2013, new routines for allocation of sponsorship funds were implemented in Grameenphone. In addition, a special committee was established to improve the approval procedures for sponsorships.
  • The findings of the audit were not included in the audit report that was sent to Grameenphone. In retrospect, this is something Telenor acknowledges should have been done in order to ensure a more systematic follow-up of the audit’s findings.

THE AUDIT OF 2016

  • In relation to the audit findings of 2013, a new audit by Group Internal Audit was conducted in May of 2016. The vast majority of sponsorships were considered to be in accordance with the current rules.
  • However, during the audit, it was again discovered that sponsorships of public authorities were in breach with internal guidelines. These sponsorships had been approved by members of Grameenphone’s management, despite the measures implemented after the internal audit in 2013.
  • The audit uncovered, among others, the sponsorship of an anniversary, and the refurbishment of a canteen used by the Bangladesh Police, including the security police, Rapid Action Battalion.
  • Furthermore, continued sponsoring of the same sporting event as in 2013 was discovered.
  • In addition, the expense of two travel itineraries for two journalists to, respectively, West Africa and Sri Lanka/India were discovered.
  • These sponsorships were awarded between 2015 to 2016.
  • Telenor has not uncovered that any transfer of funds to individuals have taken place in connection with these sponsorships.
  • Grameenphone have received security services by the Bangladesh Police, also in connection with certain strikes carried out by local employees and service providers, among other places outside Grameenphone’s offices in 2015.

TELENOR’S HANDLING OF THE ISSUE

  • The audit report was immediately reported to President and CEO  of Telenor Group and then to the Chair of the Board. The Chair of the Sustainability and Compliance Committee on the Board, was also informed about the audit report.
  • To ensure a swift and responsible follow-up of the matter, a special task force under the management of the General Counsel was set up, which reported directly to a steering committee consisting of the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Board. An instruction was immediately given to Grameenphone that all sponsorships of such kind, was to be terminated with immediate effect and that no new allocation of sponsorship funds was to be conducted.
  • Two separate legal reviews of the matter have since been conducted.
  • The Board of Directors in Telenor ASA has previously processed and considered Sigve Brekke’s involvement in the case and regards it as concluded with regards to Brekke’s handling.
  • The report by the Group Internal Audit is now for consideration with the Group function for compliance issues. This is in line with Telenor’s guidelines for handling of such issues.

TELENOR’S CONSIDERATION OF THE SITUATION IN BANGLADESH

  • The situation in Bangladesh is challenging, and at times unpredictable regarding security.
  • Grameenphone has received support by local authorities, including local police and Rapid Action Battalion, to provide security for employees and property.
  • Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) is part of the local police force in Bangladesh and Telenor is aware that the police battalion is disputed. Telenor is dependent upon local law enforcement to provide security in critical situations.

TELENOR’S CONSIDERATION OF THE ISSUE

  • The mentioned sponsorship funds have not been allocated in accordance with the Group’s internal guidelines. They should never have been allocated in the first place. This is unacceptable.
  • Telenor is not satisfied that the measures taken after the 2013-audit did not prevent additional cases of unacceptable sponsorships.
  • It is important to note that the Telenor Group audit and compliance functions in this case have worked. The company has uncovered issues through regular audits and have handled them according to Telenor guidelines. This gives Telenor the opportunity to continuously improve our operations.
  • Telenor is strengthening the routines for allocation of sponsorship funds. The current guidelines for sponsorships will be reviewed, and new sponsorship committees will be established in all business units of the Group.