The Competition Act was adopted by the country's parliament in 2012. The government took four years to constitute the Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC) in compliance with the provisions of the act.
But stakeholders and experts, it seems, are not happy with the BCC's performance. That these people were dissatisfied was evident from the statements they made at a seminar in Dhaka on Saturday last. The incumbent Commerce Minister, Tipu Munshi, an important stakeholder, was also present.
'The BCC looks like a paper tiger as it is yet to play its part in anti-competition practices in businesses for lack of expertise', experts were unanimous in their observation.
The Commerce Minister himself came up with an example in support of the experts' views.
He told the seminar that after the formation of the new government in January this year, the prices of rice went up without any reason. "I immediately held a meeting with the rice traders. At the meeting, I came to know that only four to five large traders controlled the rice market.
Mr. Munshi was candid while saying that on occasions, the bidding process is manipulated in such a way that many eligible parties cannot take part in it. Thus, the process of competition is deliberately thwarted, he added.
The absence of fair competition practices in businesses in Bangladesh is being felt everywhere and the victims of the same are none but the poor consumers.
A leading vernacular daily in a report published on Sunday last presented yet another example how the consumers are made to pay prices higher than the fair ones against purchases of various consumables.
The report said the retail level grocers earn a profit of Tk 10 for one kilogramme of packaged salt. The well-known brands print the maximum retail price of one kg salt at Tk 35 on the packet, but sell the same to the retailers at Tk 25. Allegations have it that some traders import edible salt under the garb of industrial salt to evade payment of higher rate of duty.
Fair competition in domestic trade and commerce is almost absent. Businesses, in most cases, flourish here depending on their connections with powerful quarters. They find favour from the latter only to exploit the poor consumers.
The truth is that the overall environment is not conductive to independent and effective operation of BCC or financial regulatory council (FRC) or any other body of similar nature.
When large and far more important national institutions and state organs are not functioning properly and demonstrating some kind of bias towards the power-that-be, other organisations created by the government to perform regulatory or oversight functions cannot also achieve their respective objectives.
Instances in this connection are quite many. Take the case of the most-discussed Anti-corruption Commission (ACC). True, the ACC is now more active than before, as far as netting the small fish. However, its inaction concerning the high-profile cases of graft has given rise to suspicion about its sincerity in carrying out its designated tasks.
The framing of competition law and the establishment of a commission under it have been done to meet the demand of time and thwart any move to create monopoly and cartel in trade and business.
If the law is enforced faithfully, consumers would get relief as competition ensures competitive pricing. But if a few powerful businesspeople control some particular areas of the market and create an evil nexus to make unreasonable profits with the so-called competition commission playing the role of an onlooker, the consumers can do nothing other than cursing their fate.
With or without the BCC, Bangladesh remains a sellers' market where consumers are always at the receiving end. The theory of demand and supply, apparently, does not apply here. On many occasions, despite its abundant supply, the price of a commodity in the market goes up without any plausible explanation. Similarly, the price of an essential item often goes up in the domestic market despite its international price level being on the declining path.
The prices of drugs and medicines can be taken as an example of abnormal behavior of the domestic market. A few large pharmaceutical companies fix prices of medicines arbitrarily. These companies do enjoy freehand as far as fixation of prices of their products.
The Competition Act is not designed only to benefit consumers, its basic goal is also to remove unhealthy competition, monopoly and cartel in business.
However, the overall regulatory environment and quality of governance have a bearing on the operation and performance of an entity like the BCC. Unless there is an improvement in those important areas, it would be foolhardy to expect anything impressive out of the competition law or the BCC.
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