Despite the recent introduction of operational guidelines for the e-commerce sector, the industry still seemed to be rife with complaints
The e-commerce sector has been dubbed as the future of the business sector by industrialists, politicians, experts and almost all those who understand it, but it can only be so with a good governance framework that enables transparency and accountability.
Despite the recent introduction of operational guidelines for the e-commerce sector, the industry still seemed to be rife with complaints.
Additionally, CID found evidence against 14 companies, suspecting that hundreds of crores of taka have been laundered by some e-commerce platforms.
Regulatory bodies and all stakeholders involved must monitor and enforce laws to stop any unhealthy competition while safeguarding businesses and consumers.
Consumer Association Bangladesh (CAB) President Ghulam Rahman told Dhaka Tribune that the government is mainly responsible for enabling a framework that ensures good governance, which in turn helps safeguard consumer rights.
“The government is mainly responsible for protecting the interests of the consumers as part of good governance through a framework. Under the framework, ministries, regulatory bodies, associations, legal enforcement agencies have to act as an ecosystem,” said the CAB President.
“If consumer rights are violated, one can register complaints with the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP), and following an investigation, if the violation of rights is proved, legal action can be taken through law enforcement agencies,” said Ghulam Rahman.
Associations are non-governmental bodies that represent the consumers and businesses of a sector also have their part to play.
“If you take the new SOP introduced by the MoC into account, it might have some flaws, which can be addressed if the associations shed a spotlight on them. Bangladesh Bank, MoC, and other associations have worked side by side to come up with the guideline to ensure good governance. Now if there are gaps, those need to be brought under attention and the government should address those,” he added.
The CAB president also pointed out that in regards to good governance in the much-debated eCommerce sector, the ICT ministry has responsibilities as well.
“On asking, who monitors the associations,” he explained, “ministries that give registration and license to associations fall under their authority. So if e-CAB had taken a license under the MoC it is responsible for regulating the association.”
Apart from DNCRP being responsible for protecting the rights of the consumers and raising awareness, Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC) is also responsible for ensuring fair market competition and a safe business environment through advocacy, engagement and enforcement of the law.
But while protecting consumer rights, the potentials of the e-commerce sector should be taken into consideration and steps taken accordingly.
About the current state of e-commerce in the country, Dr Muhammad Shahadat Hossain Siddiquee, who teaches Economics at the University of Dhaka, told Dhaka Tribune: “These companies somehow entered into the market under a regulatory body. Now if you stop their operation in the name of irregularities, it would be a headache.”
On the other hand, prioritizing consumer rights protection, regulations, and monitoring in this business is vital. E-commerce is a new phenomenon in the domestic market.
He believes that weak mechanisms from regulatory bodies are what led to this chaos.
Mentioning protecting the business and consumer interest, the expert opined that scrutinizing the business model and analyzing the sustainability is very important from the authorities’ end.
Seeking anonymity, a top official of E-cab told Dhaka Tribune: “Several merchants have submitted complaints against platforms for not paying several crores worth of owed money. Then there are consumers who are not getting refunds and orders.”
“Actions that will be taken have to be rational, considering the future of the industry and safeguarding everyone from falling victim to such a situation, rather than addressing emotions that are intertwined with the hard-earned money of people, that is at risk,” the official added.
The official also said there are existing laws that a consumer can rely on filing cases with the consumer protection agency however, consumers are not aware and hardly depend on it.
Dhaka Tribune also found customers who, after ordering more than tens of thousands of taka worth of products from several e-commerce platforms, had little faith in the existing laws and framework that would value consumer violation.
Now, what can be done so the people who gave orders either get their money back or their orders filled?
Barrister Tanjib Ul Alam gave an answer to this question. He told Dhaka Tribune: “Victims of Evaly and other e-commerce platforms have a number of options if they do not receive their goods or money back. They can lodge a complaint before the DNCRP for violation of sections 44 and 45 of the 2009 Act.”
In addition to the above, a victim can also lodge a complaint under section 420 of the Penal Code. Apart from criminal action, a buyer can also file a civil case for recovery of money and damages.
“But, if every buyer files cases against Evaly, it will have a catastrophic impact on the system and the whole process will take ages,” he added.
“People will get their money or goods only when Evaly has the capacity to pay. Which it does not have at the moment and in the absence of the viable amount of working capital, there is no possibility that Evaly and e-commerces will be able to pay their dues,” Barrister Tanjib further said.
The legal expert, noting the company in administration/receivership to continue operations, said: “I do not think this is a viable idea. However, it is possible to appoint a receiver/administrator by the court.”
Mentioning Evaly investment, following other e-commerce platforms, Barrister Tanjibul said that the only option for Evaly to survive is to inject fresh capital.
“What Jamuna Group has offered is actually not fresh capital. It has just converted its unpaid invoices into equity. It’s another ploy to stay afloat and grab more money from the public,“ he added.
“Jamuna Group did not say that they are injecting Tk200 crores as fresh capital. Even if they inject fresh capital in the form of cash, that amount is a drop in the ocean of dual debt, unpaid invoices to vendors, and non-delivery of goods. Evaly will be better off if it returns money to their customers rather than supplying those goods,” he further said.