Transparency of the Regulatory System
Since 1989, the government has gradually moved to decrease regulatory obstruction of private business. Various chambers of commerce have called for privatization and for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions, but at the same time many support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries. The result is policy and regulations which are often unclear, inconsistent, or little publicized. Registration and regulatory processes are frequently alleged by businesses to be used as rent-seeking opportunities. The major rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the national level under each Ministry with many final decisions being made at the top-most levels, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO is actively engaged in directing policies, as well as foreign investment in government-controlled projects.
Bangladesh has made incremental progress in using information technology both to improve the transparency and efficiency of some government services and develop independent agencies to regulate the energy and telecommunication sectors. Some investors cited government laws, regulations, and lack of implementation as impediments to investment. The government has historically limited opportunities for the private sector to comment on proposed regulations. In 2009, Bangladesh adopted the Right to Information Act providing for multilevel stakeholder consultations through workshops or media outreach. Although the consultation process exists, it is still weak and in need of further improvement.
Ministries and regulatory agencies do not generally publish or solicit comments on draft proposed legislation or regulations. However, several government organizations, including the Bangladesh Bank (the central bank), Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission, BIDA, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission have occasionally posted draft legislation and regulations online and solicited feedback from the business community. In some instances, parliamentary committees have also reached out to relevant stakeholders for input on draft legislation. The media continues to be the main information source for the public on many draft proposals. There is also no legal obligation to publish proposed regulations, consider alternatives to proposed regulation, or solicit comments from the general public.
The government printing office, The Bangladesh Government Press ( http://www.dpp.gov.bd/bgpress/ ), publishes the “Bangladesh Gazette” every Thursday and Extraordinary Gazettes as and when needed. The Gazette provides official notice of government actions, including issuance of government rules and regulations and the transfer and promotion of government employees. Laws can also be accessed at http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/ .
Bangladesh passed the Financial Reporting Act of 2015 which created the Financial Reporting Council in 2016 aimed at establishing transparency and accountability in the accounting and auditing system. The country follows Bangladesh Accounting Standards and Bangladesh Financial Reporting Standards, which are largely derived from International Accounting Standards and International Financial Reporting Standards. However, the quality of reporting varies widely. Internationally known firms have begun establishing local offices in Bangladesh and their presence is positively influencing the accounting norms in the country. Some firms are capable of providing financial reports audited to international standards while others maintain unreliable (or multiple) sets of accounting records. Regulatory agencies do not conduct impact assessments for proposed regulations; consequently, regulations are often not reviewed on the basis of data-driven assessments. Not all national budget documents are prepared according to internationally accepted standards.
International Regulatory Considerations
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) aims to integrate regional regulatory systems among Bangladesh, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan. However, efforts to advance regional cooperation measures have stalled in recent years and regulatory systems remain uncoordinated.
Local laws are based on the English common law system but most fall short of international standards. The country’s regulatory system remains weak and many of the laws and regulations are not enforced and standards are not maintained.
Bangladesh has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995. WTO requires all signatories to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) to establish a National Inquiry Point and Notification Authority to gather and efficiently distribute trade-related regulatory, standards, and conformity assessment information to the WTO Member community. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) has been working as the National Enquiry Point for the WTO-TBT Agreement since 2002. There is an internal committee on WTO affairs in BSTI and it participates in notifying WTO activities through the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries.
General Contact for WTO-TBT National Enquiry Point:
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Focal Point for TBT:
Mr. Md. Golam Baki,
Deputy Director (Certification Marks), BSTI;
Cell: +8801799828826, +8801712240702
Focal Point for other WTO related matters:
Mr. Md. Hafizur Rahman,
Director General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Cell: +88 0171 1861056
Mr. Mohammad Mahbubur Rahman Patwary,
Director-1, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Cell: +88 0171 2148758
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Bangladesh is a common law-based jurisdiction. Many of the basic laws, such as the penal code, civil and criminal procedural codes, contract law, and company law are influenced by English common law. However, family laws, such as laws relating to marriage, dissolution of marriage, and inheritance are based on religious scripts and therefore differ among religious communities. The Bangladeshi legal system is based on a written constitution and the laws often take statutory forms that are enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the higher courts. Ordinarily, executive authorities and statutory corporations cannot make any law, but can make by-laws to the extent authorized by the legislature. Such subordinate legislation is known as rules or regulations and is also enforceable by the courts. However, as a common law system, the statutes are short and set out basic rights and responsibilities but are elaborated by the courts in the application and interpretation of those laws. The Bangladeshi judiciary acts through: (1) The Superior Judiciary, having appellate, revision, and original jurisdiction; and (2) The Sub-Ordinate Judiciary, having original jurisdiction.
Since 1971, Bangladesh has updated its legal system concerning company, banking, bankruptcy, and money loan court laws, and other commercial laws. An important impediment to investment in Bangladesh is its weak and slow legal system in which the enforceability of contracts is uncertain. The judicial system does not provide for interest to be charged in tort judgments, which means procedural delays carry no penalties. Bangladesh does not have a separate court or court division dedicated solely to commercial cases. The Joint District Judge court (a civil court) is responsible for enforcing contracts.
Some notable commercial laws include:
- The Contract Act, 1872 (Act No. IX of 1930).
- The Sale of Goods Act, 1930 (Act No. III of 1930).
- The Partnership Act, 1932 (Act No. IX of 1932).
- The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (Act No. XXVI of 1881).
- The Bankruptcy Act, 1997 (Act No. X of 1997).
- The Arbitration Act, 2001 (Act No. I of 2001).
The judicial system of Bangladesh has never been completely independent from interference by the executive branch of the government. In a significant milestone, the government in 2007 separated the country’s judiciary from the executive but the executive retains strong influence over the judiciary through control of judicial appointments. Other pillars of the justice system, including the police, courts, and legal profession, are also closely aligned with the executive branch. In lower courts, corruption is widely perceived as a serious problem. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable under the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Major laws affecting foreign investment include: the Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act of 1980, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the Companies Act of 1994, the Telecommunications Act of 2001, and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Act of 2010.
Bangladesh industrial policy offers incentives for “green” (environmental) high-tech or “transformative” industries. It allows foreigners who invest $1 million or transfer $2 million to a recognized financial institution to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship. The GOB will provide financial and policy support for high-priority industries (those creating large-scale employment and earning substantial export revenue) and creative industries – architecture, arts and antiques, fashion design, film and video, interactive laser software, software, and computer and media programming. Specific importance is given to agriculture and food processing, RMG, ICT and software, pharmaceuticals, leather and leather products, and jute and jute goods.
In addition, Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, has modified its production sharing agreement contract for offshore gas exploration to include an option to export gas. In 2019, Parliament approved the Bangladesh Flag Vessels (Protection) Act 2019 with a provision to ensure Bangladeshi flagged vessels carry at least 50 percent of foreign cargo, up from 40 percent. In 2020, the Ministry of Commerce amended the digital commerce policy to allow fully foreign-owned e-commerce companies in Bangladesh and remove a previous joint venture requirement.
The One Stop Service (OSS) Act of 2018 mandated the four IPAs to provide OSS to local and foreign investors in their respective jurisdictions. The move aims to facilitate business services on behalf of multiple government agencies to improve ease of doing business. In 2020, BIDA issued time-bound rules to implement the Act of 2018. Although the IPAs have started to offer a few services under the OSS, corruption and excessive bureaucracy have held back the complete and effective roll out of the OSS. BIDA has a “one-stop” website that provides information on relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors at: http://www.bida.gov.bd/ .
Aside from information on relevant business laws and licenses, the website includes information on Bangladesh’s investment climate, opportunities for businesses, potential sectors, and how to do business in Bangladesh. The website also has an eService Portal for Investors which provides services such as visa recommendations for foreign investors, approval/extension of work permits for expatriates, approval of foreign borrowing, and approval/renewal of branch/liaison and representative offices.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Bangladesh formed an independent agency in 2011 called the “Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC)” under the Ministry of Commerce. Parliament then passed the Competition Act in 2012. However, the BCC has not received sufficient resources to operate effectively.
In 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) finalized Significant Market Power (SMP) regulations to promote competition in the industry. In 2019, BTRC declared the country’s largest telecom operator, Grameenphone (GP), the first SMP based on its revenue share of more than 50 percent and customer shares of about 47 percent. Since the declaration, the BTRC has attempted to impose restrictions on GP’s operations, which GP has challenged in the judicial system.
Expropriation and Compensation
Since the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 banned nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, Bangladesh has not nationalized or expropriated property from foreign investors. In the years immediately following independence in 1971, widespread nationalization resulted in government ownership of more than 90 percent of fixed assets in the modern manufacturing sector, including the textile, jute and sugar industries and all banking and insurance interests, except those in foreign (but non-Pakistani) hands. However, the government has taken steps to privatize many of these industries since the late 1970s and the private sector has developed into a main driver of the country’s sustained economic growth.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Convention for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) and acceded in May 1992 to the United Nations Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Alternative dispute resolutions are possible under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. The current legislation allows for enforcement of arbitral awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer investor-state dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution. The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty also stipulates that parties may, upon the initiative of either and as a part of their consultations and negotiations, agree to rely upon non-binding, third-party procedures, such as the fact-finding facility available under the rules of the “Additional Facility” of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. If the dispute cannot be resolved through consultation and negotiation, the dispute shall be submitted for settlement in accordance with the applicable dispute-settlement procedures upon which the parties have previously agreed. Bangladesh is also a party to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement for the Establishment of an Arbitration Council, signed in 2005, which aims to establish a permanent center for alternative dispute resolution in one of the SAARC member countries.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001 and amendments in 2004 reformed alternative dispute resolution procedures. The Act consolidated the law relating to both domestic and international commercial arbitration. It thus creates a single and unified legal regime for arbitration. Although the new Act is principally based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, it is a patchwork as some unique provisions are derived from the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and some from the English Arbitration Act 1996.
In practice, arbitration results are unevenly enforced and the GOB has challenged ICSID rulings, especially those that involve rulings against the government. The timeframe for dispute resolution is unpredictable and has no set limit. It can be done as quickly as a few months, but often takes years depending on the type of dispute. Anecdotal information indicates average resolution time can be as high as 16 years. Local courts may be biased against foreign investors in resolving disputes.
Bangladesh is a signatory of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and recognizes the enforcement of international arbitration awards. Domestic arbitration is under the authority of the district court bench and foreign arbitration is under the authority of the relevant high court bench.
The Bangladeshi judicial system has little ability to enforce its own awards. Senior members of the government have been effective in using their offices to resolve investment disputes on several occasions, but the government’s ability to resolve investment disputes at a lower level is mixed. Bangladesh does not publish the numbers of investment disputes involving U.S. or foreign investors. Anecdotal evidence indicates investment disputes occur with limited frequency, and the involved parties often resolve the disputes privately rather than seeking government intervention.
Implementing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures in Bangladesh is impeded by a lack of funding for courts to provide ADR services, limited cooperation by lawyers, and instances of ADR participants acting in bad faith. Slow adoption of ADR mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes in Bangladesh.
As in many countries, Bangladesh has adopted a “conflict of law” approach to determining whether a judgment from a foreign legal jurisdiction is enforceable in Bangladesh. This single criterion allows Bangladeshi courts broad discretion in choosing whether to enforce foreign judgments with significant effects on corporate and property disputes. Most enterprises in Bangladesh, and especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs), whose leadership is nominated by the ruling government party, maintain strong ties with the government. Thus, domestic courts strongly tend to favor SOEs and local companies in investment disputes.
Investors are also increasingly turning to the Bangladesh International Arbitration Center (BIAC) for dispute resolution. BIAC is an independent arbitration center established by prominent local business leaders in 2011 to improve commercial dispute resolution in Bangladesh to stimulate economic growth. The BIAC Board is headed by the President of the International Chamber of Commerce – Bangladesh and includes the presidents of other prominent chambers such as the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others. The Center operates under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. According to BIAC, fast track cases are resolved in approximately six months while typical cases are resolved in one year. Major Bangladeshi trade and business associations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh can sometimes help resolve transaction disputes.
Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are outdated. Bankruptcy laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are sometimes disregarded in business cases because of the numerous falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies. A Bankruptcy Act was passed by Parliament in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing these issues. Some bankruptcy cases fall under the Money Loan Court Act which has more stringent and timely procedures.