Panel to recommend law to form regulatory authority
The commerce ministry will form a committee to make recommendations on the formulation of a law, authorised by which the ministry will introduce an e-commerce regulatory authority to safeguard interests of all parties involved.
As per last Wednesday's commitment, the formation will begin from today or tomorrow, said Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh yesterday.
Apart from government officials, the new committee will have representatives from the private sector, university teachers, IT experts, e-commerce business insiders, economists, researchers and trade analysts, he told The Daily Star over the phone.
An inter-ministerial committee already exists comprising senior officials representing the National Board of Revenue (NBR), Bangladesh Bank, home ministry and other government regulatory authorities, he said.
However, recommendations from a wider range of people are needed to formulate a draft law to safeguard the interests of consumers and merchants and e-commerce businesses, he said.
The government will start working from today to form the E-Commerce Authority, Central Complaint Management Cell and a Digital Commerce Act to streamline the country's emerging e-commerce business, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said on Wednesday.
Every e-commerce company will have to register under the E-Commerce Authority for a unique number to run business, he said.
E-commerce firmly began to put down roots in Bangladesh back in 2009 and since then has gone on to become a mainstay in the retail landscape.
But with no definitive e-commerce policy or regulatory body for the fast-growing industry to ensure discipline, some rogue players started expropriating money from unassuming consumers.
Ghosh also said the long lockdowns have dented efforts of the ministry to protect the interests of e-commerce consumers and merchants.
The secretary also said the recovery of consumers and merchants' money from errant e-commerce and multi-level marketing companies was very difficult and the government itself could not recover the money to pay back victims as it was not encompassed in the country's laws.
However, consumers have the right to lodge complaints with the Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection to get back their money, he said.
They can also initiate legal action filing criminal cases citing fraudulence or cases with the joint district judge court demanding compensation, Ghosh said.
In line with the cases, courts can appoint people in the companies to sell properties and pay back victims their money at least to some extent, said the secretary.
Welcoming the decision, Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of private think tank Policy Research Institute, said now was the most perfect time to formulate a regulatory framework to safeguard interests of the country's emerging e-commerce businesses.
He hoped for the new committee to be balanced in representation from all sides to protect the interests of the people.
"The e-commerce is the new reality of our life. We should not stop emergence of e-commerce business only because of some errant companies. We need to regulate the e-commerce businesses with laws but not to stop the business," said Mansur.
If the e-commerce companies are not regulated properly, bigger disasters may occur in the future, he also said.
If the errant companies can be run properly through the appointment of administrators, victims can be paid back their money to some extent, Mansur also said.
But if the administrators cannot run the companies, the government should sell their properties to reimburse victims because many have already turned penniless losing everything, he said.
"However, firstly the government should take over the errant companies so that those did not go to waste or suffer damages. With the takeover of those companies, the affected consumers and merchants may get back at least a portion of their money," he added.
The victims have long been demanding return of their money and products from the companies.
The Daily Star talked to one victim, Rana Hossain, last week.
He said him and some of his friends paid e-commerce platform Eorange Tk 36.65lakh for the purchase of some motorcycles. But the company neither delivered the goods nor returned the money till date.
Hossain said he had pooled his share borrowing from relatives and putting in his father's pension and mother's fixed deposits. He believes he has lost everything.