The challenges facing Bangladesh in its transition to a middle-income economy are manifold. One of them relates to upgrading regulatory mechanisms. Many of our rules and regulations pertaining business and investment are a legacy of the past. Needless to say, some of those are outmoded and unhelpful for business. Some of those have to be entirely removed, while others relaxed. Some Southeast Asian and Far Eastern countries that have had colonial past similar to that of Bangladesh, have meanwhile effected radical reforms in their government policies towards business. Small wonder that they have been reaping huge benefits out of such reforms. For example, they have already been able to attract large amounts of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in their economies.
In our case, the issue of regulatory reforms has long been on the government's agenda. But the progress in effecting such reforms has been rather slow. A most important area of reform is dispute resolution, especially resolution of commercial disputes. Usually, the country's traditional judicial system looks after these business-related litigations. But the option is time-consuming as the courts are already overburdened with the backlog of cases of civil and criminal origin. This makes a strong case for alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Mediation and arbitration as faster modes of resolving disputes are not unknown in our culture. What is lacking is the move to mainstream these currently informal dispute resolution practices by way of giving them institutional shape. All such issues having to do with facilitation of business process came up at a recent virtual discussion in the city. Functionaries of relevant government departments, business leaders and experts highlighted various regulatory restrictions affecting the country's business competitiveness. Notably, in the pre-Covid year of 2019, Bangladesh ranked 105th out of 141 economies on the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s Global Competitive Index (GCI). Clearly, it points to the fact that the country will have to work hard in improving its status on the GCI scale. The government has already taken certain steps to this direction. The establishment of the 'one stop service (OSS)' which aims to provide some 45 business-related services from one point is definitely a commendable step forward. But as the proof of the proverbial pudding is in the eating, so will the OSS's worth hinge on how it is able to deliver in real life situation. Similarly, the government will have to identify a host of other areas ranging from the regulatory to the infrastructural clamouring for urgent addressing. Those include, among others, reforming the taxation system, introducing e-judiciary and commercial courts, enforcement of contracts, resolving issues of insolvency and amending existing bankruptcy law. Apart from these, creating adequate business infrastructures should also be in the priority list. Admittedly, some important steps have been taken to that effect. Building of the Bay terminal and Patenga terminal at Chattogram, Matarbari Deep sea port at Maheshkhali, etc are some such infrastructural facilities worth mentioning. Also, establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) will, hopefully, create the conditions for a homogeneous economic growth across different regions of the country. However, it will require the formulation of a comprehensive policy for the measures to take off. In sum, to see success, an integrated, not a piecemeal, approach to the business facilitation strategy will be required.