DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - When e-commerce firms first began to spring up in Bangladesh over 10 years ago, they were hailed as a positive development-a crucial part of the vision for Digital Bangladesh.
However, a complete lack of oversight and the absence of a standardised set of regulations meant that these firms were allowed to operate as they please, culminating in the rise of rogue companies that exploited unsuspecting customers and investors, and expropriated their money with impunity.
Why was this sorry state of affairs allowed to come about? In all these years, why did the government not feel the urgency to come up with a definitive e-commerce policy, or assign a regulatory body for the fast-growing industry?
While we have a national digital commerce policy, it was not until July this year that the commerce ministry came up with the standard operating procedure and guidelines. To this day, an e-commerce regulatory authority does not exist in Bangladesh, despite the fact that its formation is mandated in the policy. An e-commerce cell within the commerce ministry was only formed in February this year-about six to eight months after the complaints began to pour in against Evaly, which owes over Tk 10 billion (S$160 million) in liabilities.
What's even more shocking is that, even after allegations against Evaly surfaced last year, and a multi-pronged investigation was initiated by several government agencies, the company was allowed to continue its operations and ensnare many more customers and vendors. Not only was there a significant delay in holding Evaly accountable, new players with similar strategies-like Dhamaka Shopping, which did not even have a permit from the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms-were allowed to begin operations as well.
It's truly frustrating that, when questioned on these disastrous decisions, the relevant government agencies, instead of taking responsibility for their oversights, seem to be engaging in a blame game. Some of them have also suggested that the onus lies on the customers to protect their interests, and that when complaints are made, they are investigated accordingly. If that is the case, how were these firms still allowed to continue operating, even after the complaints poured in?
There is no denying the fact that the relevant government agencies have failed to carry out their duties responsibly, and their laxity created immense sufferings for customers and investors who became prey to these rogue companies. If these firms are not held to account, there will be a significant dip in trust in the e-commerce sector, which will ultimately have economic repercussions.
The consequences for the victims of these firms will be far graver if they are not compensated for their losses. We urge the government to immediately ensure that justice is served, and in the long term, to set up a commission with representation from all relevant stakeholders to ensure smooth functioning of the e-commerce industry, within a standardised set of rules and regulations that protect the rights of customers and investors.
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