That doing business in Bangladesh is a very challenging endeavour is quite known. The challenge here has nothing to do with the inherent risk of implementing a new business idea. On the contrary, it is mostly about obtaining permissions from the various government offices, both local and central, before starting a business venture. The most basic of such official permissions is a trade licence issued by the local government bodies including Union Parishads, municipalities or city corporations. Though, ideally, getting the permission to do business in the form of a licence issued by the government office concerned should be possible in one go, in reality, the process is very complicated, time-consuming and costly. Although it is a common experience of the business entrepreneurs of Bangladesh, the truth has come out afresh reportedly from a recent Focus Group Discussion (FGD) involving entrepreneurs from different parts of the country organised by an agro-business body working for female business entrepreneurs. However, the findings of the FGD that covered both male and female entrepreneurs, as reported, have provided a document on the hurdles faced by entrepreneurs at the government offices while running an existing business or starting a new one.
For instance, an entrepreneur has to spend five to seven working days to have a licence issued from the relevant government office. The tardiness of the work has to do with the fact that the application for a business licence has to be done manually. Worse yet, the licensing procedure being part digital and part manual, the applicant has to physically visit the office concerned more than once. Businesspeople have to go through similar hassles at the time of renewal of their licence, which is an annual event.
What is more, the ordeal of the entrepreneurs does not end with just getting a licence, for they have also to meet the requirements of tax and duties including the Value-Added Tax (VAT). Each involves a complex procedure, time and, of course, expenditures in addition to the regular fees. That, in other words, means entrepreneurs have to meet more than one type of cost and navigate a multiplicity of complex procedures recurrently to keep in business. However, as the FGD further observed, the experience of women entrepreneurs is more distressing than that of their male counterparts. For instance, to renew her trade licence, a female entrepreneur has to meet undocumented requirements including spending three times more time and money as part of the renewal costs including regular fees plus, what they say, the self-explanatory 'speed money'.
Such a costly and difficult licensing procedure is undoubtedly discouraging to entrepreneurs operating, particularly, on a micro and small scale. This is more so when it comes to female entrepreneurs in this category. Needless to say, the existing system is a big obstacle to business and investment in the economy. It has been further observed that to avoid such a gruelling experience, many new entrants start their business without at all having a licence. When they finally opt for one, a long time-from three to 15 years-has already elapsed after the start of their business. This does not speak of a helpful business environment. So, it requires a massive makeover. To that end, complete automation of the licensing service for business, application and renewal procedures with especial attention to female entrepreneurs is urgently needed. Hopefully, the government would give its highest attention to the issue and do the needful sooner rather than later.