Bangladesh is mulling the introduction of its own index to assess the country’s business environment as the World Bank (WB) has halted the publication of its flagship report ‘Ease of Doing Business’.
Alleged data manipulation by economies like China, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Azerbaijan is said to be the reason for halting the publication of the report.
Bangladesh is likely to make the self-assessment of the business environment by updating the progress obtained through reforms.
Experts who are familiar with the development have suggested embarking on such assessment taking the outcome of the reform measures into account.
They said there are broadly 12 regulatory areas in the index to assess the business environment in a country.
Scores were given on the progress obtained by a country. For example, the doing business report takes into account how many days it now needs to start a business or get electricity.
If the scores are well, the country usually moves up the ladder.
The experts suggest that Bangladesh assess its progress taking into account the latest developments in the ‘doing business’ templates.
But such self-assessment cannot be compared with the situation that the WB assesses.
Doing a business index is important for investors to boost their confidence at a time when they plan to invest or launch a new business in a country.
Dr Akhtar Mahmood, a former lead private-sector specialist at the WB, said: “Bangladesh may assess itself just based on developments in 12 areas of the ease-of-doing-business index.”
Dr Mahmood was directly involved with the process of doing business from the very beginning.
The Bangladeshi-born economist said the country must continue its reform programmes as the WB may start its activity through an online platform soon.
He said the halting will not be a permanent one as this publication has brought reforms to the fore by all countries, even by many African countries.
Dr Mahmood, who now resides in Washington, told the FE through WhatsApp that getting results of the reforms takes time.
Bangladesh should conduct small surveys on its reforms meant for an improved business environment, he advocated.
“Actually, there is no need for big samples, small sampling, even 50 samples are quite OK to know the feedback of the reforms from the relevant people.”
Dr Mahmood said reforms should be visible to the eyes of the business persons.
“I was invited to Delhi a few years back as the Modi government-backed reforms were not helping notch up the ranking of India.”
“I suggested they conduct small surveys on the reforms and address those which the businessmen identify as hurdles to start a business,” he went on to say.
India moved up by 14 spots to 63rd in the ‘doing business’ ranking 2020 which was announced in 2019.
Similarly, Pakistan climbed up by 29 places to 108 as Dr Mahmood believes: “It took reforms much earlier during the Nawaz Sharif regime but it was reflected in the 2020 index.”
Economist Dr M Mashrur Reaz, who worked with International Finance Corporation that directly deals with the report, said: “A country-specific index may be introduced as Bangladesh has been making progress.”
Bangladesh ranked 168th in the 2020 doing-business index released in 2019, eight notches up from the earlier 176th.
Dr Reaz, chairman at the newly-formed Policy Exchange Bangladesh, said Bangladesh has a setup to look after the developments as almost all key divisions have assigned officers on the matter.
Doing business is about an improvement in the business environment, he mentioned.
“So, with or without the World Bank indicators, these assigned officers can continue to work for the improvement of the country’s business environment.”
“Any home-grown index can be very effective as they [assigned officers] know the full ground realities of the country,” argued Dr Reaz.
He said India, China, Malaysia and Germany have their own indexes to assess the business environment.
Meanwhile, Dr Zahid Hussain, an independent economist, suggested that Bangladesh prepare such a report to see how much it has improved its business environment.
“But we must be careful about the quality of data,” he told the FE.
Dr Hussain said Bangladesh lacks reliable data which, he views, is very crucial not only for a short-term economic perspective but also for a long-term reality.
“If investors lack confidence on the data produced by Bangladesh, they will no longer trust such data even if Bangladesh really produces quality data in future.”
The ‘doing business’ index measures regulations of 190 economies through spending 12 months ending on April 30 each year.
It is usually released in October for the next year.
The WB has so far issued 17 reports that have motivated governments worldwide to understand business reforms that are necessary to achieve sustainable economic growth.
Bangladesh has been implementing a number of reform programmes in order to improve the country’s business environment. In February last Parliament approved a bill relating to exemption of companies’ common seals by amending the Companies Act 1994. It may help the country move up the ranking by at least seven notches.
The cabinet in July last approved the formation of ‘One Person Company’, another reform measure initiated by the government.
The notice time for holding a board meeting was also increased to 21 days from the existing 14 days as part of the reform measures.
However, an almost similar report produced by the World Economic Forum styled ‘Global Competitiveness Report’ has also not been published.
The WB also conducts a country-specific ‘Enterprise Survey’ which was last released for Bangladesh in 2014.