Customers to get back Tk 214cr stuck in payment gateways
The government yesterday decided to return to customers Tk 214 crore that has remained stuck in payment gateways after some errant e-commerce platforms failed to deliver goods despite advance payments.
The funds are owned by the customers who made the payments to buy products since July 1 but did not get the delivery.
"Bangladesh Bank will take steps to return the money to the affected consumers within the next three months," said Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi at a media briefing at his secretariat office in Dhaka after an inter-ministerial meeting on e-commerce.
Customers placed orders worth Tk 490 crore with 25 companies since July when the government enforced Digital Commerce Operation Guideline 2021 to protect the interest of consumers in the face of rising complaints of non-delivery of goods against advance payments.
Customers have received deliveries of products worth Tk 280 crore.
The rest of the fund has remained with the gateways of payment service providers, payment system operators, and mobile financial service providers as e-commerce platforms did not supply the products to the customers and report to the payments gateway providers.
Since July 1, the gateways have been keeping the payments in the escrow accounts as per a directive of Bangladesh Bank, and waiting for confirmation from the merchants about the delivery of the products.
Escrow is the use of a third party, which holds an asset or funds before they are transferred from one party to another. The third party holds the funds until both parties have fulfilled their contractual requirements.
Of the Tk 214 crore, Tk 165 crore alone is stuck with Foster Payments, a payment gateway service provider that settled the transactions between clients and controversial e-commerce platform Qcoom, according to a central bank official.
The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit has frozen the bank accounts of Foster Payments due to its alleged involvement in money laundering.
The central banker said the clients would get the money back after the accounts were unfrozen.
A number of top executives of some e-commerce platforms and payments gateway operators are now in jail. So, the central bank may have to sit with the commerce ministry again to resolve the disputes, he said.
When asked about returning the money to the consumers and merchants who made transactions before July 1, Munshi said the owners of some errant e-commerce companies had taken away the money as the escrow system was not in place then.
The full amount owed to customers and merchants by nearly half a dozen firms, including Evaly, Alesha Mart, Dhamaka and e-Orange, is yet to be known. The figure could be at least Tk 3,000 crore, according to one estimate.
However, if the court provides a decision about Evaly, whose top executives are facing cases, the same can be applied to the other nine firms as they had committed similar irregularities.
The ICT ministry is developing a piece of software to pay back money to the affected consumers and merchants within the next three months, Munshi said.
There is a possibility that the customers conned by Jubok and Destiny might get back their funds as the value of their properties had appreciated a lot over the years. However, the decision will have to come from the court as well, said the minister.
According to the minister, every e-commerce company would have to obtain a unique business identification number (UBIN) to run its operations. The commerce ministry will soon introduce the UBIN.
It also plans to put in place the Central Logistics Tracking Platform to keep an eye on e-commerce transactions and the Central Complaint Management System to sort out payment related disputes.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for information and communication technology, said new laws were not needed to streamline e-commerce businesses as existing laws were enough to guide the thriving sector.
He said nearly 90 per cent of e-commerce startups failed, and only 10 per cent succeeded. "However, the 10 per cent successful startups can do better than the 90 per cent that fail."
The concept of startups has created a good number of entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. There are about 2,500 startups that have collectively attracted $500 million worth of foreign direct investment since 2016.