TWO YEARS OF ‘ONE STOP SERVICE’: A few bad apples spoiling Bida’s OSS barrel

The Daily Star  February 14, 2021

While the government is fervently trying out new ways to draw investment to boost economic growth, some state bodies continue to cling on to their customary negligent behaviours, effectively marring all progress.

Case in point: the One Stop Service (OSS) web portal of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida).

The portal aims to help investors fast implement business projects by centralising delivery of necessary regulatory, compliance, and value-added services through a single window.

By bringing such ease in doing business, expectations are for Bangladesh to rise to a double-digit spot from the current three-digit one in the associated World Bank index.

But investors are yet to fully enjoy the benefits of such services coming online when it comes to working with two government bodies – the Department of Environment (DoE) and the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms.

But that has not always been the case, alleged the service receivers.

There have been instances when investors were asked to physically visit government offices and present hard copies of documents. Some services are also not being provided within the period officially stipulated.

They have even been compelled to pay speed money, despite providing all necessary documents, to bring a stop to officials intentionally wasting time by bringing up unjustified excuses.

These allegations came up when The Daily Star recentlytalked to over 30 businesspeople and firms who received services from the OSS.

However, there is no such hassle in availing services provided by Bida itself.

Bida launched the OSS in February 2019. It now provides 41 services and aims to integrate as many as 150 services from 35 agencies, all to facilitate investment processes in the country.

Up until December 31 last year, it said to have delivered 25,019 services.

Surprising, it is yet to get any application over land registration or mutation and gas connection.

Businesspeople said now they get electricity connections within a couple of weeks while the period officially stipulated was 14 workdays.

According to World Bank Group’s flagship report Doing Business 2019, investors in 2018 needed to spend 150 days to obtain a new electricity connection whereas over 400 days in 2014.

As per rules, investors are to receive environment clearance certificates against fresh industry or running industry anywhere between one week and 45 workdays, depending on the category and submission of required documents.

But the reality is a far cry from it.

Md Idris Sheikh, managing director of Hasem Jute Mill in Faridpur, said he needed around six months to get the clearance from the DoE, that too with the help from a department official who is his friend.

He did not need to spend any additional money.

Seyed Kaiser Ali, managing director of Metro Ispat, said he was able to get registered with Bida within two days.

But he had to spend months to get the environment certificate, despite providing all necessary documents. He said the environment clearance certificate was mandatory for the steel industry.

AHM Irfanul Huq, managing director of Luminous Pharmaceuticals, said the hassles had slightly reduced compared to that earlier when attempting to get registered with Bida and the registrar office.

However, he said his staff and those of a consultancy firm he availed services from had to visit the registrar office despite applying through the OSS.

According to him, the problem was that the OSS only connects investors to the different government service providers instead of providing the certificates or clearances itself.

He said there was still a lack of efficiency when it came to the government offices providing services through verifying documents and not being able to do away with seeking hard copies of documents.

Md Alkas Ali, owner of Parua LPG and Refuelling Station in Sylhet, said he got registered with Bida easily without incurring any additional cost. He even availed an import certificate through the OSS within one week.

But he spoke of having to wait for a few days to get a clearance from the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, believing it had something to do with physical inspections.

One entrepreneur, seeking anonymity, accused the registrar office of intentionally dillydallying just to get him to pay speed money.

All the investors said they had to provide hard copies of documents.

Bida Executive Chairman Md Sirazul Islam said they were serious about improving in the ease of doing business ranking and were working to ensure an investment-friendly environment.

He said the private sector was contributing to the development of the country’s economy and for this reason, there was a need to improve the ease of doing business and create a business-friendly environment.

Regarding the allegation, he acknowledged that such irregularities were somewhat present.

He said the registrar office had even wanted to delay implementation of the integration with Bida for providing online services.

Bida took steps so that the applicants need not physically visit the registrar office, he said.

“The aim of the OSS is to do away with hassles of physical visits and remove bribe culture from public service entities,” he noted.

Bida is putting emphasis on digital services as well as queries and objections, responses against which have to be provided online by the service providing entities themselves, which is an integral part of the ease of doing business, Islam said.

On being pointed out by The Daily Star that there was no portal in the OSS website to file specific complaints and seek redress, Islam immediately called over officials and asked to incorporate it.

Jibon Krishna Saha Roy, director (OSS and regulatory reform) at Bida, said investors who face any bureaucratic hassle in any office should inform them.

Bida will intervene and take necessary steps, he said.

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