Govt must take responsibility for scandal-hit e-commerce sector: minister

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Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal has admitted that the government must take responsibility for failing to prevent people from being cheated in the name of e-commerce business.

"Sometimes, people are defrauded through these types of activities and it has been happening for a while. Now, it has taken a different form. It used to be done manually but now it is done electronically," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"Of course, the government must take responsibility and regulate [e-commerce businesses]. How can the government avoid responsibility?”

The e-commerce industry has been growing for several years and a number of new companies have shot to prominence since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

But some of these companies are now facing allegations of swindling customers out of millions of takas by luring them with lucrative offers.

Many bought products at half price and then ordered more goods worth thousands of takas from these companies in the hope of selling them off at higher prices. But even after waiting for months, the customers have neither received the products nor have they been refunded.

Mohammad Rassel, managing director of embattled online marketplace Evaly, is among several people behind bars on charges of fraud and embezzlement in the recent e-commerce scams.

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told reporters after a meeting on Wednesday that the government would consider his release if it appears that it will be possible to refund a “significant” number of Evaly customers by selling his assets.   

“The government didn’t take the money and it did not get the share of the profit the customers made by shopping [from Evaly]. So, how will the government refund. But we will discuss the issue further.” 

The meeting decided to form a regulatory authority to look after the e-commerce businesses and pass a full-fledged law to bring fradusters in the sector to justice.

“But it will take time,” Tipu Munshi said.