Is FBCCI becoming a puppet organisation?
The business community is deprived of an opportunity to choose their leaders through a participatory election as directors of the FBCCI are picked through consensus among hopefuls, who are often backed by the ruling parties.
In the last decade, the leaders of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) have been chosen either through partial election or were selected on the basis of consensus among the potential candidates, said a former presidential hopeful and a number of former directors.
Fake voters and political pressure exerted by the voters backed by ruling parties mainly dominated the election over the last few years, they said, all on condition of anonymity.
Sheikh Fazle Fahim, the outgoing president of the federation, became the president based on the consensus among the directors.
The trend is on repeat this time as well.
All 46 directors were elected uncontested as four candidates withdrew their candidature from the election due May 5, a member of the FBCCI election board said.
The election board is expected to declare 46 candidates as the winners. Thirty-two nominated directors from 16 associations and 16 from chambers will join the FBCCI board for 2021-23.
Md Jasim Uddin, chairman of Bengal Commercial Bank, is likely to be the new president as all directors from his panel have been elected uncontested at the final scrutiny by the election board on Monday.
Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, the predecessor of Sheikh Fahim, was elected similarly as the chamber group did not contest in the polls.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, Kazi Akram Uddin Ahmed, AK Azad, and Annisul Huq all went on to helm the top post of the federation thanks to the blessing of the government.
"The FBCCI leadership comes from the government-backed people," said a former presidential candidate.
"As a result, the FBCCI is failing to protect the interests of the business community and negotiate with the government and international communities."
"The FBCCI has turned into a sub-division of the government as it has no teeth to bite and oppose the government's anti-business decision. It always follows the government's decisions without question," he said.
"The FBCCI is failing to play its due role because of the weak leadership as leaders are chosen without a proper election."
The businessman said in India, the national level trade federation was so strong. In most cases, the government decisions are reversed if the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry opposes.
In Turkey, the national level trade federation is also very strong. "We have a lot to learn from the examples," he said.
There are allegations that votes are sold in exchange for money.
"Even this year, some of the voters were given money so that they do not contest in the election," said a former leader of the FBCCI.
The daily star could not independently verify the claim.
"The FBCCI has lost its credibility as the national institution as most of the presidents, vice-presidents and directors come here to use the platform to be a member of the parliament, minister, or an influential government activist," said a former director.
"It is no more an independent body."
The former director also questioned about raising the number of the director posts to 80.
A decade ago, the number of directors was 25.
Over the last few years, the number of directors rose to 80.
"Unfortunately, all the increased posts are sold out in exchange forfor money as many businessmen want to get a berth on the FBCCI board to enjoy government facilities," said the businessman.
"Although the quantity of the FBCCI directors increased, the quality deteriorated significantly," he said.
The representatives of nearly 400 trade associations and 86 chambers are the voters of the FBCCI election.
A commission should be formed to restructure the FBCCI and protect pull it out of the clutches of the influential people so that it can work for the greater interest of the nation, he also said.
The FBCCI should allow large local and multinational companies to be direct members in order to instil dynamism in the federation, he said.
Md Shamsul Alam, a member of the election board, said his board was scheduled to announce the names of the directors on May 5.
Some 488 voters from the chamber group and 1,931 voters from the association group were eligible to cast their votes in the election this year, he said.
The voters came from 86 chambers and 389 associations. Of the 86 chambers, 72 belong to A grade with six voters each and 14 belong to B grade with four voters each.
Of the 389 associations, four belong to B grade with three votes each. The rest of the associations has five votes each.
Alam said the directors reached a consensus because of Covid-19 as many would not be able to come to Dhaka to vote.