Call to establish commission to apply competition act

Financial express, Bangladesh, July 03, 2012

Lawmakers, businessmen and civil society leaders Monday put emphasis on the proper implementation of competition law for the benefit of consumers and businesses in the country.

They, however, expressed their frustration over the non-effectiveness of various commissions in the country because of the political influence and lack of government support to run those institutions independently.

They said that the ‘Competition Act 2012′ has been passed by parliament with specific objectives to promote economic development of the country by creating a better environment for private sector in terms of efficiency in production and pricing decision and for the benefit of consumers and producers.

The observations came in the conference on “Moving the Competition Law Agenda Forward in Bangladesh: Possible Implementation Concerns’ at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in the city.

Unnayan Shamannay and CUTS International jointly organised the event supported by International Finance corporation (IFC).

Study Team Leader of Unnayan Shamannay Dr AK Enamul Haque presided over the inaugural session of the programme while Commerce Minister GM Quader was present as the chief guest.

The participants in the conference strongly suggested to the government to form a commission in order to maintain and promote competition through preventing and eliminating all forms of anti-competitive behaviour from the market.

Prof at George Washington Law School and former commissioner at Federal Trade Commission of USA William Kovacic said good leadership and adequate skilled manpower are important for proper implementation of competition law in Bangladesh.

The commerce minister said the competition law was passed in parliament in consultation with all stakeholders considering the benefit of people and businesses.

“It is an international standard law which is pro-people and business friendly and has covered more or less all aspects of businesses,” he said.

He said that only government alone could not implement the competition law rather it highly needs people’s support and cooperation to reap benefit from the law.

Mr Quader has said the government would be very careful to check the artificial price hike of essential commodities during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, businesses, politicians, academics and civil society members said the head of the proposed commission to implement Competition Act 2012 needs to be a man of strong nerve and guts who will stand by the government and be ready to resign in case of problems created by the government in exercising the commissions’ power independently.

Apex Group chairman Syed Manzur Elahi observed that the nation has been suffering from frustration as it has lots of laws but without any enforcement and there are many commissions which are in real terms toothless.

He said the first challenge in implementing the law is to have a proper commission, meaning whether the commission will be chosen by any political party or will be established as per its merit.

Again the partisanship comes in if any ruling party comes in, they should have the political will to catch a businessman or investigate a business belonging to that party, he added.

“Sadly the scenario in Bangladesh is that it is a polarized country where one belongs to either party A or B. If somebody belongs to the ruling party then everything is OK. But if he belongs to the opposition then everything is wrong,” said the veteran business leader.

He suggested appointment of an outspoken person to the commission who has the courage to make understand the government head that the law applies for all and people will even accept a tough administration provided it is fair and does not have a double standard.

“That political will or that much power should emanate from the head of the government down to the chairman,” he said.

“The head of the government should say you work freely, independently and whatever you do, I will support you provided you are fair…The commission member should have independence, power and there should be political back up,” Mr Elahi, a former caretaker government adviser.

He said the other commissions are not working well and there are lots of confusions over the election commission which is the most important one.

He emphasised on exemplary punishment of those businesspeople or government officials involved in committing grievous mistakes or irregularities irrespective of their political identity as there is a clause of punishment in the law.

Mr Elahi said people do not have confidence in tax ombudsman and businesspeople are afraid of going there fearing injustice and harassment.

Asif Ibrahim said private sector is fully supportive of the law as they were involved in drafting of the law.

He suggested strong knowledge base for familiarisation of economic and social benefits of competition to break the vicious circle of business syndicates that are responsible for the price hike of commodities.

Lawmaker Tipu Munshi said big businesses practicing monopoly try to drive away other businesses and devour them very often. This law will benefit not only consumers but ensure growth for the good businesses.

He said the head of the commission should be a person of strong nerve and personality who will be aware of any undue advantage taken by any person or exert influence on his activities. This way the commission will not fail like other commissions and will earn confidence of people, he added.

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