Red carpet still a myth for investors, red tape the reality

Decoding Bangladesh's ambitious 'one-stop service' initiative

If business opportunity is mangoes on a tree, effort is the energy needed to scale it and pluck as much of the sweet fruit as possible. In Bangladesh, these trees are super tall.

Notwithstanding the honest efforts of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh still remains a difficult country to do business -- entrepreneurs are hobbled by endless adherence to overlapping regulations sans coordination among the various government agencies.

To be precise, the devil is in the details. Of the 17 public entities and one private firm enlisted by the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) for providing 57 services under one roof -- called the 'one-stop service' (OSS) -- to investors planning to set up shops, only a few are active.

The One-Stop Service Act, 2017, to provide domestic and foreign investors hassle-free clearances from a single venue came into effect in February 2018. Nearly four years on, 15 government entities, including the National Board of Revenue (NBR), remain inactive to provide services under the OSS.

Only the NID service of the Bangladesh Election Commission and the e-payment platform of Sonali Bank are providing services properly.

Bangladesh’s effort to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) cannot be achieved under such a bureaucratic red tape, according to a top leader of a trade body.

However, the BIDA chief has refuted the allegations of bureaucratic red tape. His logic is simple -- "the initiative will fructify over time", another bureaucratic allibi.

"BIDA is working to provide 57 services online by 18 public and private sector agencies under the OSS, including business registration, land allocation, trade body membership etc. The system is corruption-free and fast," said Md Sirajul Islam, the executive chairman of BIDA.

At present, BIDA is providing 18 services under the online initiative where every movement of a file is tracked, he said.

Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DCCI) has added some services under the OSS programme. "Other related organisations can include their services too under this initiative," Sirajul said.

“We are working to integrate more government and private entities under the initiative and efforts are on to make the system user friendly,” he added.

DCCI president Rizwan Rahman told UNB that the OSS "requires some adjustments and improvements. Eventually, the OSS will be a great deal if we can ensure the services without personal visits to government offices".

DCCI will provide facilities like new membership, membership renewal and country of origin certificate under the OSS, he assured. "Overall, the OSS is a praiseworthy initiative of the government under its 'Digital Bangladesh' initiative."

Under the OSS Act, BIDA has been empowered to implement one-stop services for investors along with other investment promotion agencies like Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA), Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) and Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA).

The investment proposal registered by BIDA grew by 46.33% in the July-September quarter of the current financial year over the corresponding period in the previous fiscal.

According to BIDA, an entity attached with the Prime Minister Office has given registrations to as many as 189 companies with investment proposals of Tk20,463 crore in the first quarter of this fiscal.

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