Even after making a draft of it to bring order to the e-commerce sector, the Commerce Ministry has backed away from formulating the Digital Commerce Act due to the negative attitude of the businesses despite incidents of rampant irregularities and embezzlements.
Instead, it has decided to emphasise some additions and amendments to several of the existing laws and policies of the country to manage the mushrooming e-commerce sector.
According to ministry sources, policymakers of the government no longer see the need to make the new act after taking the views of stakeholders. However, they have now decided to formulate the draft of the Digital Commerce Authority (DCA) Act.
The decisions were taken in the fourth meeting of the stakeholders involved in the formulation of the Digital Commerce Authority and its act held at the Commerce Ministry earlier this month, which was attended by 30 representatives of various ministries, agencies and organisations.
Chairman of the meeting and Commerce Ministry Senior Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh emphasised enacting the DCA Act instead of the Digital Commerce Act and directed officials concerned to follow a standard format to formulate it by incorporating applicable provisions. He also asked to take the opinion of the stakeholders by preparing the draft.
Meanwhile, the decision to avoid the Digital Commerce Act has coincided with the government’s recent decision to repeal the Digital Security Act and create the Cyber Security Act.
On September 22, 2021, a meeting attended by ministers and officials of the ministries of home, law, information and commerce decided to form the e-commerce law and DCA to prevent rising incidents of fraud during and after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and manage the sector in an orderly manner.
Later, a 16-member legislative committee and a technical committee were formed on September 27, 2021, to implement that decision. Apart from those, another committee was formed separately under the supervision of the Cabinet Division.
At the beginning of this year, the Commerce Ministry sought opinions from the stakeholders after publishing the draft of the Digital Commerce Act-2023 and received negative responses from businesses.
Apart from the draft law, the government also increased the surveillance of the e-commerce sector and made Digital Business Identity mandatory.
The ministry now has decided to not formulate the act following fierce opposition from different groups of stakeholders, while business lawyers also vetoed the move.
At a meeting back in February, businesses had claimed that no new law is needed for e-commerce as it will be possible to bring order to this sector only through the amendment of existing laws, the Consumer Rights Protection Act and the Competition Act.
The then FBCCI president Jasim Uddin had said that e-commerce entrepreneurs in Bangladesh should be allowed to do business in the same way e-commerce businesses are running in neighbouring or developed countries. A law drafted without the involvement of stakeholders is not necessary, he added.
Barrister Tanjib-Ul Alam, who represented the Commerce Ministry at that meeting, also said that the Digital Commerce Act was not needed as everything it had was already in the existing laws. “This will hurt the businesses.”
Addressing the meeting, e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) President Shomi Kaiser said, “Stealing is stealing. There is no need to separate it by saying online or offline. We don’t want this act. There is no need to create a new authority as there is an e-commerce cell.”
Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) in February also voiced the same concern, saying the Digital Commerce Act was not digital business friendly. It will become difficult to do e-commerce business if the law is implemented, it said.
In the face of such demands of the businesses, instead of creating the new law, the government to manage the e-commerce sector is now focusing on adding and amending provisions to several existing laws and policies, including the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2013, Cyber Security Act, Consumer Rights Protection Act, Competition Commission Act and Companies Act.
Draft amendments have already been made to add new sections on e-commerce in the Consumer Rights Protection Act. In the amended draft, the Cabinet Division has recommended the provision of imprisonment for three years or a fine of not more than Tk 3 lakh or both for conducting e-commerce business illegally without a licence or registration.
The Directorate of National Consumers' Rights Protection has been taking steps as per the law to supervise the overall affairs of the goods and services sector since 2010 to protect the interests of consumers.
However, consumers in recent times have submitted many complaints of fraud regarding the e-commerce sector. As the existing law does not have any provision to address them, these amendments are being made to bring e-commerce criminals to book.
As many as 15 sections and sub-sections relating to digital commerce are being added to the draft of the amended act.
It states that digital commerce businesses will not be allowed to operate without registration or licence as it will allow the authorities to monitor and control their activities. Also, it will be considered a crime if the digital commerce organisation or the supporting organisation does not deliver the products and services properly as promised, read the draft.