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ICT Associations demand for amendments and revisions to the a2i Bill 2023

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To demand necessary amendments and revisions to the recently passed Agency to Innovate (A2i) Bill 2023 at the National Parliament, a  press conference was jointly organized by five leading ICT trade associations of Bangladesh at the BASIS Auditorium in Kawran Bazar, Dhaka.

The associations involved in organizing the press conference were the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), Bangladesh Computer Samity (BCS), Bangladesh Association of Contact Center & Outsourcing (BACCO), Internet Service Provider Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB), and E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB). BASIS President Russell T. Ahmed, BACCO President Wahid Sharif, ISPAB President MdImdadulHoque, e-CAB General Secretary Md Abdul WahedTomal attended, as well as representatives from over a hundred IT industries and executive members of the five trade associations, were also present at the press conference.

To begin with, we extend our congratulations to the government for its efforts in building Digital Bangladesh through mutual and complementary collaboration between the government and private sectors. We appreciate all forms of cooperation from the government to strengthen the position of private accounts, which is essential for the realization of the Prime Minister’s vision of a Smart Bangladesh by 2041.

The 12th meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications & Information Technology was held on 18 June 2023. Members of the committee (Members of the Parliament), the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, the Minister of State for the ICT Division, relevant officials from the ICT Divisions, and presidents representing five trade associations within the IT sector were cordially invited and attended the meeting.

During the meeting, a comprehensive review of the “Agency to Innovate (a2i) Bill 2023” was conducted, comprising a total of 13 sections and 15 sub-sections. In this regard, parliamentary standing committee members have crafted specific proposals for vital amendments within these sections. After careful deliberation, the meeting reached a unanimous collective agreement on three crucial matters.

Firstly, it has been decided that all IT Trade Associations shall be adequately represented in the Executive Committee, as outlined in [Section 7]. Secondly, a2i shall be prohibited from engaging in any joint or partnership transactions, as stipulated in [Section 12 (d)]. Lastly, a2i shall not be authorized to form a company, as articulated in [Section 21].

On July 5, 2023, upon thorough examination of the a2i Bill 2023, as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee and presented by the Minister of State for ICT Division at the National Parliament it is evident that certain aspects of the two proposed amendments have been duly taken into account. However, it is worth noting that one crucial proposition, “the provision granting the agency the authority to establish companies” [Section 21], remains intact despite initial intentions to eliminate it.

The Prime Minister, along with Prime Minister’s ICT Affairs Advisor and ICT State Minister, consistently emphasized that “the government’s commitment is to foster an environment conducive to enterprise rather than engaging in business activities directly.” The imperative lies in establishing a business-friendly ecosystem that strengthens the position in materializing the Smart Bangladesh vision of the Prime Minister.

In his address, BASIS President Russell T. Ahmed expressed the following statement “As association leaders, we have engaged in multiple discussions with the Minister of State and relevant stakeholders regarding the Agency to Innovate (a2i) 2023 Bill. During these deliberations, we have submitted written proposals to address the conflicting concerns between the proposed legislation and the industry. However, to our surprise, we have noticed, the aforementioned decision (referred to as Decision No. 2), as stated in Section 21 of the Bill passed by the Parliament, remains unaltered.”

He added that “The current clause within the a2i Bill grants the Agency the authority to establish any type of company and provide any service, which directly contradicts the interests of the industry. In light of this conflict, I hereby request the complete revocation of the power granted to a2i to form companies, as described in Section 21 of the recently passed a2i Bill of 2023. Furthermore, I urge the reprinting of the bill with necessary amendments to resolve the conflicts that exist in other clauses.”

Expressing his concern, BACCO President Wahid Sharif emphasized, “During our active participation in the Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting, it was unanimously agreed upon by the parliamentary standing committee members that the demands put forth are well-founded. To foster the progress of the nation toward becoming a Smart Bangladesh, the existing clause must be repealed through an amendment to the law. The significance of amending this bill cannot be overstated, as it holds the key to expediting the growth of this industry.”

A representative from ISPAB stated, “We appreciate the National Parliament, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, and the ICT Division for considering trade organizations’ input on the a2i Bill, 2023. The a2i project will become a permanent structure, emphasizing private sector involvement with IT organizations on the board of directors. We thank Mr. Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister of ICT Division, for his support. The approved a2i Bill 2023 enables government assistance to the private sector without direct involvement in business activities. The Agency to Innovate (a2i) will continue driving the digital transformation of public services and enhancing citizens’ quality of life, with collaboration from ISPAB and other ICT associations.”

General Secretary Md Abdul WahedTomal shared his anticipation, “It is expected that the State Minister and our ICT advisor will promptly address the unified requests of all associations.”

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