MFS likely to come under close watch

Rezaul Karim | Published: May 15, 2019 09:50:57 | Updated: May 17, 2019 13:17:08

FE file photo

Mobile financial services (MFS) like bKash and UCash are likely to be brought under close monitoring by the government soon, officials said.

The government is moving towards such regular screening after it finds concrete evidence of criminal activities being carried out by using digital financial service, they added.

To this effect, the home ministry in a recent letter sent by Md Jakir Hossain, deputy secretary of Public Security Division, has asked the finance ministry to give opinions in this regard as early as possible.

Earlier, the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre (NTMC) has requested the home ministry to take next course of action in this regard. NTMC started its operation on January 01, 2017.

"NTMC provides telecommunication monitoring facility to the law enforcers and intelligence agencies round the clock for the sake of national security. It is the only national platform where the law enforcers and intelligence agencies get all kinds of telecommunication related information as per their demand that brings success," according to NTMC document.

"As crime occurs, using financial services like bKash and UCash directly and indirectly. So, services should come under monitoring."

Besides, mobile financial services such as bKash, UCash and Nagad should also be included in the NTMC database.

MFS activities have caused controversy over allegations of fraudulent activities including illegal channelling of remittance, called "Hundi", money laundering and terror financing, a high official of a private bank said.

"It is very easy to open MFS account using fake papers. So, loopholes opened all doors of irregularity regarding over-the-counter transactions including money laundering," he said.

"The government can monitor any mobile financial service if it wishes. It is not illegal," Md Serajul

Islam, an executive director of Bangladesh Bank and its spokesperson, told the FE on Monday.

Currently, they (MFS) provide several services including inward remittance, cash-in transaction, cash-out transaction, person-to-person (P2P), salary disbursement, utility bill payment, merchant payment, government payment, purchasing from brands or outlets.

A study on Mobile Financial Services (MFSs) in Bangladesh, conducted by Bangladesh Bank and Dhaka University in 2017, identified some challenges.

According to the study, "Many customers have bad experiences like blackmailing and hijacking for money using MFSs by criminals. Another great challenge being exposed by MFSs is illegal remittance from foreign countries."

It added: "Migrant workers living in middle-east countries and Singapore and Malaysia are sending money to Bangladesh through a coordinated network MFSs agents which are not legal in Bangladesh."

Presently, some 16 banks are proving mobile financial services in the country. There were 919,191 agents till March last.

When contacted, a BB senior official said, "We remain vigilant to prevent misuse of MFS facilities. We take actions against anyone if found involved in any suspicious transaction using MFS."

"Any account, which operates in breach of the guidelines for MFS operation, is closed. We inspect the MFS providers' activities strictly," he added.

Due to rising illegal use of MFS, the central bank lowered transaction limits on February 01, 2017. Now, a user can cash-in Tk 15,000 instead of Tk 25,000. Cash-out limits have also been lowered to Tk 10,000 from Tk 25,000.

A total of 209,074,061 transactions took place through MFS platforms in March last alone and the total value of transactions was Tk 346.78 billion.

When contacted, head of corporate communications of bKash Shamsuddin Haider Dalim said, "We are working with NTMC regularly and providing information to the NTMC according to its demand. Bangladesh Bank (BB) is the mother regulator of the country's mobile financial services."

Cheating is common allegation against such financial services, he said, adding that creating awareness among the customers of MFS is very important to stop any fraud activities.

He, however, said they provide any kinds of information to the government agencies when they ask for. Simultaneously, they provide information to the central bank.

Several MFS authorities have suspended the activities of thousand agent accounts for their alleged involvement in digital hundi.

Many agents are also operating more than one account, breaching the guidelines for MFS operation, a source concerned said.


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