Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi had bought a cow from a digital market. It was never delivered

The e-commerce industry has been under the scanner in recent months, with scores of unsuspecting consumers falling prey to fraudulent schemes online and even high-ranking government officials are not safe from scammers as Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi found out.

Two years ago, the minister purchased a cow worth Tk 100,000 at the opening ceremony of a digital marketplace for sacrificial animals. But he never got to see the animal in flesh.

Munshi shed light on his bitter e-commerce experience during a workshop at the Bangladesh Competition Commission on Sunday.

"The sacrificial cattle were supposed to be sold at the digital marketplace. Being a minister, I was invited to the inauguration of the platform. There, I was shown a cow and I bought it. The price of the cow was Tk 100,000 and I thought I'd buy it early on."

And so began the wait for its delivery. After a week or so, the minister was informed that the cow was no longer available as someone else had bought it.

"How could that be? It was taken by another person although I had paid for the cow immediately," he said.

“I am a minister and if I couldn't get the cow then how's it supposed to work? They said, 'Sir, don't worry, we will give you another cow.' They showed me a picture of a different cow and said it was for me. I thought there wasn't much that could be done as I was their prisoner."

The minister was then showed another cow which was worth Tk 87,000. "I thought I'd be saving Tk 13,000 but then they said they'd give me a goat with that money. They were the ones doing all the talking and I was just listening.”

Then the minister asked them to slaughter the cow and send him a third of its meat and distribute the rest, which was obliged. He also received the goat alive. “If I had lost my money and had no cow meat to show for it, then maybe I would have sought legal action."

The calls for greater regulation of e-commerce platforms have grown amid allegations of embezzlement and financial fraud against platforms such as Evaly and Eorange.

Munshi, too, believes tougher laws are needed to regulate the e-commerce sector and prevent any scope for fraud.

"There is a problem with Evaly today. How much has Evaly spent on propaganda? There is a lot to talk about here. Evaly has taken bond from RJSC. Millions of companies take out licences from RJSC.

"Speaking of Eorange, they did not even get a license from RJSC. But they have been doing business with a trade license. They can be arrested under Section 420 for fraud but that provision will allow them to be released on bail. So we have to make stricter laws.”

The minister also called for greater public awareness about the e-commerce business. "To raise awareness, journalists from the Economic Reporters Forum can play an important role.

"With the development of the country, the financial condition of the people has improved and the purchasing power has increased. Taking advantage of this opportunity, some organisations are trying to deceive people. People need to be aware of e-commerce."

Munshi also spoke about plans to refund customers by selling the assets of the companies following Evaly's business model.

“Institutions that have deceived people in the past have a lot of resources. It is possible to pay off the debt by selling the assets. The government is working with these issues in mind. ”