The webinar titled 'Current reforms in the Ease of Doing Business in Bangladesh and Preparedness for the Future' arranged in Dhaka last Tuesday, as reported in the Financial Express the following day, could not have come at a better time. The important discussion session organised by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and participated in by representatives of the government's Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) comes at a time when foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, as elsewhere in the world, have been shrinking over the pandemic years of 2020-2021. The discussants mentioned the role that the private sector could play in this field in greater cooperation with the government agencies by helping raise the country's ranking in the index of 'Ease of Doing Business'(EoDB). Indeed, this last-mentioned issue has been the nagging problem that not only investors from outside, but also those at home complained of over the years. It is good that the dialogue took stock of the issue, though not completely agreeing with the World Bank, from where such rankings are published. The BIDA's version of its own one-stop services (OSS) to help proliferation of healthy business and its efforts with various government offices and agreements signed with them were placed before the webinar. The fact that over 150 government services would be made available under the policy of one-stop services is indeed welcome.
Nonetheless, one would raise fingers at the issue and point out that this terminology has been in use for over the last two decades, coming from the BIDA's forerunner BOI, or the Board of Investment. What type of slumber had taken over the whole machinery and its processes is one question that may be asked in this particular case. If an often-trumpeted jargon cannot be given proper and effective shape over decades of efforts and publicity, the conclusion to arrive at would definitely be one of pointing to basic defects in the whole system, be that one of utter inefficiency or lack of good governance. Yes, there is no doubt that Bangladesh had been growing at an unprecedented rate till 2019, and there were plaudits from all over the world, from academics and researchers, think tanks, and international organisations. Then the pandemic of Covid-19 came, and things started to slide downhill, as all over the world. Not only growth, but also FDI began to drop. This country looked towards foreigners for investment in energy, telecom, stock market and transportation and all other modes of communications --- China, Japan, and the United States being among the largest ones. With all those countries experiencing an economic slowdown, their penchant for investing abroad also went down, with worldwide FDI slashed almost to half the size. Now with vaccine available aplenty in those countries and the economies giving signs of recovery, FDI from these sources would also look for destinations, it is hoped.
Bangladesh has always been known for its policy incongruity, slothful implementation of projects, inadequacy of good governance and various types of hassles. The bureaucracy has not been noted for its lack of labyrinthine procedures. So, whatever the webinar participants would like the public and the outsiders to know, one must make a serious attempt at eradicating all the ills that still exist on the way to making business easy, and thereby inviting more FDI. The BIDA's efforts apart, lessons can be learnt very easily from Cambodia and Vietnam, where FDI compares much more favourably to that of Bangladesh. There may be a lacking in Bangladesh's work culture compared to those of these two countries. The BIDA must take cognizance of it, as also the private sector. The webinar's conclusions are welcome: easily contrived business not only helps create employment and progress, it ushers in larger doses of FDI, thereby opening the door to more growth, knowledge transfer, acceptable work ethics and technological innovation. Good luck to Bangladesh on the FDI front.