The apex trade body of Bangladesh, FBCCI, has failed to uphold its glory in protecting the rights of businesses due to lack of institutional capacity and political affiliation of leaders.
The issue came under the spotlight following the recent ‘questionable role’ of the Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) in standing against the anti-dumping duty by India on jute export and new VAT law implementation.
Business people especially the small and medium enterprises took to the street to realise the demand for package VAT under the banner of Bebosayee Oikkya Porishad.
They claimed that FBCCI was inactive in raising the voice against the implementation of new VAT law – a 15% flat rate – due to leaders’ affiliation with the ruling political parties.
“We were forced to take to the streets on 15% VAT issue as the apex trade body failed to negotiate with the government in this regard,” Abdus Salam, president of Bebosayee Oikkya Porishad, told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said every year at the business consultative committee meeting organised by the FBCCI and the National Board of Revenue (NBR), they recommend the government for many realistic and logical proposals regarding businesses interest while only 9%-10% of the proposals are accepted in the budgets.
“The government does not want to pay heed to our proposals as the FBCCI is dependent on the government. If the FBCCI president had been elected without any political influence and through direct voting, he would have done more.”
A group of business leaders, however, alleged that due to personal interest, the board of the supreme trade body failed to stand against the Indian government decision of imposing anti-dumping duty on jute and jute good exports to the neighbouring country.
They claimed that incumbent President Abdul Matlub Ahmed maintains a good relation with India and that is why he keeps mum about the issue.
On January 5, the Indian government imposed anti-dumping duty ranging from $6.30 to $351.72 per tonne on the imports of jute and jute products from Bangladesh and Nepal to protect local industry.
This duty will remain effective for the next five year.
“Though the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce of Industry (DCCI) instantly expressed concern on anti-dumping duty on jute, we did not see any visible action from the federation,” seeking anonymity a business leader told the Dhaka Tribune.
This was only for his own interest and he was busy drumming up business for his own sake, rather than the business community as a whole, he added.
Despite several attempts over phone, this correspondent failed to receive comment from FBCCI President Abdul Matlub Ahmad as he did not respond to the call.
Former business leaders of several chambers, however, stressed the need for increasing institutional capacity and direct election to choose leaders to make the federation more accountable to the business community.
“Though veteran business persons are made the presidents of the apex trade body, they fail to protect the rights of the businesses due to their political affiliation,” said a former president of the federation, who preferred not to be named.
To ensure the rights of business communities as a whole, the leaders of the organisations should be elected without any political influence and through direct voting, he suggested.
Though there is a research cell comprised of five members in the apex trade body, there is hardly any research over the last few years, and it was evident that its only task is to prepare speeches for the president and vice-presidents.
If the institutional capacity of the FBCCI is increased, prioritising research, the federation would be able to contribute more to expansion of business and reduce sufferings of business community, former DCCI president Asif Ibrahim told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Those who come to lead the federation are not directly connected with business community, especially the small ones. They do not have proper idea about business pattern as well as problems,” Md Jasim Uddin, a former first vice-president of FBCCI told the Dhaka Tribune.
In the current election system, the leaders have not to go to the grass-roots leaders and they also do not have to make promises, said Jasim, also a director of the current board.
As a result, there is lack of commitment from the leaders, which makes them unaccountable to the business community, added the leader.
Only a direct voting to elect leaders can create accountability and responsibility among the leaders to work for the greater interest of the businesses, he added.
“When a leader will have no agenda and he will not manipulate policy for his own sake, his voice will be raised to protect interest of the business community, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, the incumbent first vice-president of the FBCCI told the Dhaka Tribune.
“If I do not meet the business people, I will not be able to know about their problems. For an effective trade body, the leader should recognise the problems of all business and he or she should have regular communications with the associations and chambers.”
“If I am elected president, with my team, I will do everything to realise logical demands of business people,” claimed Mohiuddin, a president candidate of the upcoming election for 2017-19 tenure.
Matlub was elected FBCCI President with the blessing of ruling party Awami League (AL), according to sources.
Though his tenure will come to an end after a week, he failed to raise his voice to ensure business people’s rights.
Business people alleged that Matlub was more attentive to his own business, rather than the common businesses. He did not oppose to India’s anti-dumping duty as he had automobile business with India.
Businesses also said Matlub at an FBCCI business tour in China in 2015 signed three Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for his own business firm Nitol-Niloy, while only one MoU was signed for the federation.
The FBCCI president could not be reached for comment on the issue despite several phone calls and SMS from Thursday through Saturday.
According to the current system, the FBCCI is comprised of 81 chambers and 382 associations. A total of 2,342 people can cast vote. This year the number of directors have been increased to 60 from previous years 52. Of them, 36 directors will be elected through voting on May 14 while the rest 24 posts for the Directors will be reserved for 24 prime business organisations. These elected and selected directors will elect their president, first vice-president and vice-president on May 16.
The present system of the election was introduced in 2002, abolishing the rule of direct voting of the trade organisation’s rules formed in 1961.
In the present system, it is found that most of the presidents of the apex body were elected with the blessings of the then ruling party.
To reform the organisation rules, the Commerce Ministry took initiatives to formulate a new law, which was reviewed in 2013, but could never make its way to the parliament.
Later, the ministry formed a committee on April 5, 2016, headed by the former president of FBCCI, Salman F Rahman, also the private sector development affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The committee finalised its recommendations after discussion with various groups. The recommendations, however, are yet to see the light and the election for the next tenure is going to be held in line with the existing system.
Salman F Rahman said: “As per the demand of the FBCCI members, the government and the trade body had taken initiative for reforms including direct elections, but it was not possible to implement before this elections.”
He said Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed categorically said reforms would be implemented just after the elections for the term 2017-19.