The 2020 Global Competitiveness and Bangladesh Business Environment report says Bangladeshi businessmen feel they are lagging behind competition due to infrastructural deficiencies, high rates of tax and others
Inefficient government bureaucracy is the biggest problem for trade and commerce, believe 72% businessmen surveyed in major cities of Bangladesh.
In their view, the second and third major problems are corruption and access to finance, respectively.
Meanwhile, 68% of businessmen consider corruption the major problem while 66% see limited scope for financing as the major problem.
Besides, businessmen feel they are lagging behind in competitiveness due to 12 problems, including infrastructural deficiencies, high rates of tax, and shortage of skilled experts.
These observations made by the businesspeople came up in the report of the 2020 Global Competitiveness and Bangladesh Business Environment Survey released on Thursday.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a local research organisation in Bangladesh, published the report on behalf of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Unlike other years, the ranking of the Global Competitiveness Index was not published this year because of the coronavirus situation.
However, to know what the problem of a country is, opinions of businessmen of that particular country have been surveyed. The CPD has done this in Bangladesh on behalf of the WEF.
They have taken the opinions of the top executives of 55 organisations with assets of over Tk10 crore.
The CPD released the two reports through a virtual press conference. CPD Research Director Khandaker Golam Moazzem talked about various aspects of the reports.
Khandaker Golam Moazzem said different problems emerge as the biggest problem to businesspeople at different times.
"At one time corruption was the major problem. Later, infrastructure came up as a big problem. For now, businessmen are considering incompetent administration as the foremost problem."
Regarding enhancing the skills of government officials, CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun said the business environment needs to be made easier for an efficient and development-oriented economy.
She also stressed the need for enhancing the excellence of technology.
Considering the corona situation, various changes are needed in business, she opined.
The report emphasises 12 issues to make trade and commerce in Bangladesh more competitive. These include governance, infrastructure, technology, human capital, financial environment, business operations and innovation, domestic competition, foreign trade and competition, security and risks.
Institutions, infrastructure, ICT adoption, macroeconomic stability, product market, labour market, financial market, market size, health, skills, business dynamism and innovation are 12 pillars of competitiveness, says the report.
Thirty-seven developed countries, including the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Estonia, and the United States, are the best performers in these pillars.
Bangladesh has a score of over 50 only in the government's long-term vision of business and the impact of the online gig economy on working conditions sectors out of the total 24 sectors mentioned in the questionnaire for the global survey.
However, Khandaker Golam Moazzem considers even these two scores are respectable. Of these, the quality of road infrastructure, water supply system, train service, airport and seaport service have improved much in Bangladesh than before.
According to the report, Bangladesh also has done much better in technological advancement.
Golam Moazzem said Bangladesh's major technological progress was observed in the case of the online gig economy in providing transport services. Various types of online based transport services such as Patho, uber etc made important contributions against the backdrop of weak public transport service facilities.
Pointing at the indicators in which the country has performed poorly, Golam Moazzem said Bangladesh lags behind in terms of human capital and financial environment.
He said 60.7% respondents expressed that the soundness of banks is below the normal level and this has deteriorated in 2019 compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, 64% of businessmen perceived that the financial auditing and reporting standard is weak and the level of weakness has deteriorated further.
"Access to finance is largely targeted to large-scale enterprises where SMEs and startups find it difficult to get necessary credit support. About 84% of respondents believe that it is largely difficult for startup entrepreneurs to obtain equity funding. Some 62% respondents mentioned SMEs' poor access to finance," said Golam Moazzem.
Asked what should be Bangladesh's ranking in business competitiveness, Dr Moazzem said Bangladesh naturally might come somewhere in the second tier after 37 rich and advanced economies recognised by the World Economic Forum as the most prepared and resilient for Covid-19 recovery.
Elaborating on the findings of their survey, he said there is a feeling among businesspeople surveyed that corporate activities have been consolidated into hands of a few big business groups.
"Big businesses have somehow survived the pandemic shocks with the help of government's stimulus and easy access to bank loans, which did not happen in the case of small businesses. This may lead to an "industrial divide", he said, suggesting that SMEs should be given some space to integrate into the backward linkage and supply chain.
The CPD research director said administrative overhauling initiated by the new leadership of the securities regulator has brought some positive changes in the stock market, but access to banks has remained difficult especially for small businesses due to a lack of proper monitoring of the central bank.
CPD Distinguished Fellow Dr Mostafizur Rahman said businesses must use more technologies to stay competitive. At the same time, product diversification is needed to prevent growth without employment, he added.
He also stressed the improvement of institutional efficiency of government organisations like the Bangladesh Bank and the National Board of Revenue to ensure improved delivery of services to the people and businesses.