LT24::The parliament has approved an amendment to the existing law to allow travel agencies to shift their ownership and open branches at home and abroad.

State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Md Mahbub Ali tabled the Bangladesh Travel Agency (Registration and Control amendment) Bill 2020 which was approved through a voice vote.

After the state minister initially presented the bill on Sept 7, it was forwarded to the parliamentary standing committee on the civil aviation and tourism ministry for scrutiny.

The bill paved the way for the travel agencies in Bangladesh to open their branches at home and abroad after getting approval from the government.

The existing law does not have an option to impose a fine on a travel agency but can revoke its registration or halt its business. The amended law will enable the authorities to impose a fine on them.

The amended law has a provision for six months in jail, a Tk 500,000 fine, or both for the delinquent agencies. The Penal Code will be applicable to such cases, according to the new law.

It also includes a clause barring the travel agencies from changing addresses without approval.

The amendment enables the authorities to renew the licence of a travel agency after it misses the deadline to apply for a renewal, provided it pays the fine fixed by the law, instead of just revoking the licence.

“It will also create scope for the agencies to open branches at home and abroad and shift their ownership,” State Minister Mahbub Ali said, describing the scope of the bill.

“It’ll be much easier to avail the service from the travel agencies. Moreover, it’ll boost the government’s revenue.”

Some of the MPs from the Jatiya Party and BNP criticised the government over the corruption and irregularity in state-run Biman Bangladesh Airlines over its tickets.

The government is taking measures to prevent the irregularities, the state minister said.

“Travel agencies work like an agent, while Biman is the supplier. Why do we need a law for agents? There was no need,” said Fakhrul Imam, a Jatiya Party MP.

“The bill was proposed to serve the interest of the travel agencies. This should be scrutinised further and focus on the customers’ interest,” said BNP MP Harunur Rashid.

“The bill was proposed only to ensure the licence of a travel agency is not revoked but only a fine is imposed on it. Around 100 companies are embezzling funds. The agencies book the tickets disguising as buyers and it’s Biman that suffers the loss. The ministry controls those agencies. It is because of the ministry’s mismanagement that Biman runs into losses,” said Rumeen Farhana, a BNP MP.

State Minister Mahbub Ali highlighted the government’s steps to curb corruption and irregularities in reply to the criticism.

“We have taken quite a few steps. There used to be a GDA system and non-availability of tickets. We have investigated and taken steps. The coronavirus pandemic has affected travel agencies as well as the airlines. They are going through a troubled time. No one can say that tickets are unavailable anymore,” he said.

“It’s not that I am completely denying the corruption. It exists on a limited scale. The authorities are taking action against those related to it [corruption].”

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