Collection of funds should be the top priority

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Important work was pending, and “Everyone” thought “Someone” would do it. “Anyone” could have done it, but “Nobody” did. “Someone” got angry, because that was “Everyone’s” job. “Everyone” thought “Anyone” could do it, but “Nobody” realized that “Everyone” wouldn’t. It ended with “Everybody” blaming “Somebody” while “Nobody” did what “Anybody” could do.

This old satirical adage roughly reflects the mismanagement of wheezing worms coming out of e-commerce boxes in Bangladesh. It’s quite annoying rather than shocking. The government has allowed the progressive violation of the law and all norms of doing business in the name of e-commerce only to advance its mythical doctrine of “digital Bangladesh”.

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Rouge’s websites have been allowed to fraudulently post insanely low prices for consumer goods, appliances, vehicles, and more. This sparked the national wildfire of the hype. But the government did nothing. E-commerce companies have accepted prepayments against unusually late deliveries. And the government did nothing. Consumers got angry when their deliveries never arrived. Yet the government has done nothing.

Even when the failing online outlets began to procrastinate for reimbursement, the government, armed with legal instruments and institutions, did nothing to save helpless citizens from such a brazen scam. Finally, when the media began to expose the frauds of epic proportions, law enforcement woke up and caught a few culprits.

Then the blame game soap opera began in government.

Minister of Finance AHM Mustafa Kamal has made the Ministry of Commerce public enemy number one. “They [the commerce ministry] have to take responsibility mainly. At the same time, the other agencies involved should take responsibility collectively, ”he said, reported the Daily Star.

Conventional and mobile banks, with the exception of Nagad, as well as all payment gateways operate under the jurisdiction of the central bank. Therefore, when the Minister of Finance says that “the other agencies involved should take responsibility collectively”, he also points the finger at the Bangladesh Bank, however inadvertently.

But Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi questioned the central bank’s ability to recover the money from disgraced e-commerce site Evaly. “The e-commerce company has spent a lot of money on promotional purposes or embezzled funds elsewhere,” he told reporters.

The Minister of Commerce is clearly in denial mode to manage the administrative and regulatory hot potato. It also strongly protects the monumental failure of the Competition Commission to stop the rise of e-commerce crooks like evaly and e-Orange.

Interestingly enough, the Minister of Telecom said nothing at all when more than Tk 47 crore of Sirajganjshop customer refund money in Nagad’s custody disappeared in just two days. The contagion of fraud and irregularities plaguing the nascent e-commerce industry with a few bad apples is now spreading to mobile financial services.

Much like e-commerce, a lack of regulatory oversight puts the hard-earned financially inclusive ecosystem at risk. By allowing opaque ownership and false advertising, customers’ money entrusted to a mobile financial service is even defrauded.

Evaly’s fraud began by offering 16 Tk ($ 0.19) cell phones on November 30, 2019. This campaign is still suspended on its website. What more does it take for the Bangladesh Competition Commission to wake up when cell phones are sold for the price of a bottle of water?

The commission, while having the power to sanction and imprison these scammers, instead allowed the monstrous rise of evaly. The competition watchdog’s ruthless failure to intervene has dared to expand and prompted others to follow suit.

The authorities are now scrambling to cover up their spectacular failure to act and protect the deceived customers of the e-commerce union. The populist idea of ​​creating a specific regulator for e-commerce is also gaining momentum. This will only add another point of failure in the already disoriented club of regulators.

The government should identify where, when and why the guardians of regulation in place have collectively failed to contain the lust of fraudsters. But collecting and refunding clients’ money should be the government’s top priority.

The author is Senior Policy Researcher at LIRNEasia.

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