It was meant to make doing business easier. But almost two years after the initiative was taken, Bangladesh Investment Development Authority – Bida's – promise of providing One Stop Service has remained a pipe dream for investors who are still jumping through hoops to start their businesses in the country.
Three city corporations of Dhaka and Chattogram had signed a deal with Bida on November 8, 2018 to provide new trade licences for business within 24 hours of applying under a one-stop service (OSS).
However, the city corporations are yet to provide the promised services for businesses that applied through Bida. As a result, investors are still facing trouble to get trade licences.
An agreement was signed to provide eight services on the same day but the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC) could only start the services for clearance of company name and registration.
At the start of the current year, Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB) and Dhaka Electric Supply Company (Desco) signed an agreement to provide new electricity connections within 28 days of receiving an application.
So far, four new companies have come under the deal but none of them have been able to start the service. As a result, it takes, on average, 121 days to get a new electricity connection, according to the World Bank.
According to Bida sources, 20 government and autonomous agencies had got on board signing agreements to provide 43 services. But only five agencies have started seven services so far. Some 18 other agencies have not launched the 36 services they were supposed to provide on various excuses.
These services include the e-TIN registration of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), name clearance and name registration of a company of the RJSC, the EC Secretariat's verification for NID application, security clearance for foreign companies by the Security Services Division, Sonal Bank's online transaction.
Sirajul Islam, executive chairman of Bida, said many agencies have been unable to start their services because of technical incompatibility.
"Some agencies have started their services by integrating their systems with the web system of Bida. But unfortunately, some agencies are lagging behind," Sirajul Islam told The Business Standard.
"The topic of the readiness of the agencies which have failed to provide services was discussed at the sixth meeting of the National Committee for Monitoring Implementation of Doing Business (NCMID). The agencies there promised to take initiative in this regard," he added.
The chief executive of Bida further said, "The one-stop service was started to provide hasslefree and quality services rapidly to investors. But it will be hard to reach the goal if the service providers do not act proactively."
However, businessmen and economists think that an important initiative like the one-stop service is stuck in the concept stage only because of the negligence of some government organisations.
Salman F Rahman, Private Sector Industry and Investment adviser to the prime minister, told The Business Standard that Bangladesh was one the best-performing countries in ease of doing business index last year.
"We have been able to make many reforms in the meantime, despite the pandemic, with the help of the ministries and other agencies, which I believe will be reflected in the publication of the index this year," he said.
He also said, "Initially, when we approached any ministry or agency and raised issues about rules, laws or practices, many of them reacted defensively. Now there has been a significant change in their mindset and everyone concerned is committed to reforms to improve the business and investment climate."
According to reviews, 13 services of three city corporations of Dhaka and Chattogram, National Board of Revenue, and the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms are still to be started under the 2018 agreement signed with Bida.
Mohammad Abdul Hamid Miah, chief revenue officer of Dhaka North City Corporation, said, "The automation work of all the city corporations has been done under one government project. But the agreement with the company which completed the project has expired. As a result, the work of system integration of the city corporation with Bida remains incomplete."
"The city corporation will complete the work by hiring a new vendor. The tender process is ongoing. The service is expected to be started next year," he added.
Officials of the RJSC said they could not start six OSSs due to technical reasons.
Santosh Kumar Pandit, additional registrar (joint secretary) of the RJSC told The Business Standard, "To start the services under OSS we had to work on the modernisation of the Bida systems along with the RJSC system. As a result, it took longer."
"The RJSC has already started the clearance of the company name and company registration services. The six other services are related to different bodies like the home ministry, foreign ministry and the Bangladesh Bank. Those will also be started soon," he added.
Five services of Security Services Division, Office of the Chief Controller of Exports and Imports, and five services of Chattogram Development Authority, PDB and Desco under an agreement signed on October 28, 2019, are also in limbo.
Later, Bida signed agreements with the Ministry of Land, Department of Environment, Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakkha, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and four power supply companies.
Engineer Md Kausar Ameer Ali, managing director of the Desco told The Business Standard, "The hassle of getting new electricity connection has already been reduced. But the service with Bida has not started because of technological bottlenecks."
"The government wants to start the OSS to ease the business conditions of the country. Taking the issue seriously, Desco has almost finished the work of technological modernisation of its service. It will start within the next one-and-a-half-months," he said.
Pranesh Ranjan Sutradhar, the chief controller of the Office of the Chief Controller of Imports and Exports, did not say anything specific about the issue of the delays but he mentioned that they would be started soon.
Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries, told The Business Standard that Bida failed to implement the government's plan on a one-stop service centre due to the negligence of other agencies.
"The one-stop service remains on paper only and the cost of doing business will never go down without having proper one-stop service centres, and inflow of foreign direct investment will not rise as a result," he said.
"Due to the absence of an effective OSS the investors are facing several difficulties," he added.
Experts say some agencies have been stalling the OSS because that would reduce their scope of taking bribes and other corrupt practices–which is rampant in the current situation.
"Taking bribes in exchange for providing services like trade licences, gas-electricity connections etc., are very common. Though customers pay bribes through middlemen, many officials get a slice of the pie. If the services start online, it would stop this corruption," Zahid Hussain, former chief economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, told The Business Standard.
He said the modernisation of technology is not supposed to take two years. The One-Stop Service is still languishing because of a lack of enthusiasm of the government agencies along with other limitations.
"No agency is legally bound to implement the agreement. To make the OSS work properly, political will along with legal obligation is a must," he added.
Recently, Bida recommended that the commerce ministry drop the trade licence requirement for company registration. It asked the ministry to implement the recommendation within a year.
Bida Director (One-Stop Service and Regulatory Reform) Jibon Krishna Saha Roy said they signed a deal with Business Automation Limited in September 2018 to provide all kinds of services online to local and foreign investors.
Bida launched the OSS portal in February last year with a promise to provide more than 154 services from 35 organisations through the online platform.
Jibon Krishna Saha Roy said, "Bida OSS is currently providing 21 services. Of them, Bida itself renders 14 services while other agencies provide the other seven. Forty-five more services are awaiting integration with the Bida OSS."