The panel will consist of representatives and experts from the private, academic, IT, and e-commerce sectors
The Ministry of Commerce is going to form a new panel which will advise the government on formulating rules to regulate the scandal-ridden local e-commerce sector, while maintaining the interest of consumers and merchants.
The panel will consist of representatives and experts from the private, academic, IT, and e-commerce sectors, alongside government officials, economists, researchers, and trade analysts.
Although there is an existing inter-ministerial committee, recommendation from a broader range of stakeholders is needed, Hafizur Rahman, chief of the Central Digital Commerce Cell at the Ministry of Commerce, told Dhaka Tribune.
The existing committee currently comprises representatives from the National Board of Revenue (NBR), Bangladesh Bank, Home Ministry and other regulatory authorities.
The move comes on the heels of recent scandals rocked by dubious e-commerce platforms such as Evaly, Eorange, Dhamaka Shopping, Sirajganj Shop and others, who offered astonishing discounts on products to customers, but failed to deliver the products to customers, despite receiving full payment in advance, in most cases.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) officials explained that several regulatory bodies and agencies have to be involved to ensure consumer protection through a framework that still needs to be defined for the e-commerce sector.
The relevant agencies include the Bangladesh Competition Commission, ICT Division, a2i, Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, the Bangladesh Bank, as well as the Commerce Ministry.
According to e-CAB, a risk factor management committee is also imperative, that will monitor and control the risky behaviour of e-commerce platforms, consisting of the Ministry of Public Administration, Department of ICT, Ministry of Commerce, Competition Commission, Consumer Rights, Bangladesh Bank, and others.
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal had also said last week that several regulatory bodies needed to be involved in governing the sector, as some businesses are registered as tech-based, which falls under the ICT, A2i wing of the government.
Unique BIN registration to be mandatory
Hafizur Rahman also told Dhaka Tribune that all e-commerce platforms including Facebook-based businesses will be brought under a unique business identification number (UBIN) program to regulate and monitor the sector.
“Registration will be given after careful inspection of promotional campaigns, customer reviews on products and deliveries, and feedback posted by consumers online. Any online platform without UBIN would not be allowed to operate. The a2i and the ICT Division have developed a software that will allow online registration. We expect to start by the end of this year,” he added.
According to the commerce ministry official, the Directorate of National Consumers' Rights Protection will suspend operations of any platform if there are multiple allegations of customer harassment against it.
In recent months, the e-commerce sector has been plauged with complaints relating to product deliveries, advance payments, fraudulent transactions, and embezzlement.
Evaly, Eorange, Dhamaka, Sirajganj Shop, and most recently PriyoShop have been accused of malpractice.
Alesha Mart has also been accused of breaching the recently introduced standard operating procedure (SOP) by offering 50% discounts on products through its own card.
The DNCRP also released data that identifies the malpractice of such organizations.
Following the massive scams in the sector, the commerce ministry has already provided approval of the verification process to safeguard consumers of the digital marketplace.
However, according to industry insiders, a new regulatory body will further hinder the ease-of-doing business.
Waseem Alim, founder, and chief executive officer of Chaldal, in a discussion, debated the need for a new regulatory body and said that the current framework was sufficient, if just monitored properly.
Additional regulations will discourage new businesses, he added.
AKM Fahim Mashroor, chief executive officer of Bdjobs Limited, also agreed with Alim and suggested strengthening regulatory bodies such as the central bank.
Earlier, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said in a media briefing the government will start working to form the E-Commerce Authority, Central Complaint Management Cell and the Digital Commerce Act to streamline the country's emerging e-commerce business, last Wednesday.