NASA Engineer’s Dream of Making Tk12,000 Laptops Caught in the Web of Bureaucracy

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January 17, 2022, 11:55 a.m.

Last modification: January 17, 2022, 1:19 PM

Hasan Rahman, the retired NASA engineer who owns a Taalpata prototype, says policies should change to support tech companies. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Hasan Rahman, the retired NASA engineer who owns a Taalpata prototype, says policies should change to support tech companies. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

About four years ago, Hasan Rahman, a retired NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) engineer, came to Bangladesh on vacation when his friend took him to local schools from Bashbari to Gazipur for a short visit. His presence gave life to the school premises.

All the students were delighted to meet the NASA engineer. But Rahman, unfortunately, did not share the same sentiment. He became too engrossed in a reality check: These school kids were technology deprived.

Later, during a casual conversation with his friend, he understood how our schools lack inclusiveness in technology.

Thinking of how he can help improve the situation, his tech-oriented mind set out to design a laptop called “Taalpata” at an affordable price for students. Instantly, he drew a plan and started working on it.

He designed a foldable 360-degree 12,000 Tk multi-touch screen laptop that is fire, water and shock resistant and comes with a three-year warranty. It measures 11.6 inches with eight hours of battery backup, 128 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM. With these specs, it can run on both Windows and Linux operating systems and host an Intel N4000 processor.

To manufacture the Taalpata laptops, he went under the umbrella of Hi-Tech Park because he was won over by their flashy advertisements. He charged a monthly rent of Tk 10 per square foot, whereas in a place like Gulshan the rent would be Tk 120 per square foot.

The Hi-Tech Park claims to be a one-stop solution that waives taxes, VAT and duties for a manufacturing company that falls under its umbrella. To move forward with his plan, he ordered raw materials from overseas to assemble and give Taalpata its final shape.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Since then, Datasoft Manufacturing and Assembly Inc Limited, (DMA) has planned to launch this laptop “soon”. However, its “soon” has not yet arrived as the product has not reached the local market yet. The company could only produce some 500 units of laptops, but has not yet planned commercial production.

“I expected to sell this laptop like candy given our demand for technological devices. en masse,” said Rahman, chief executive. Director at DMA.

For starters, Rahman found himself at the mercy of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) once raw materials from Taalpata arrived at the port. He was completely taken aback when he learned that he would have to pay customs duties of 47% when he only expected to pay 1%. Consecutively, the market price of Taalpata doubled due to its customs duties.

“In reality, all the promises made by Hi-Tech Park were not true. I could not believe that I had to pay such high customs duties for importing raw materials only, while others had to pay 9% for the import of a fully assembled laptop computer.

What kind of politics is this? How can such policies encourage businessmen to grow their businesses?” Rahman said, raising more questions about the system he found himself in.

The NBR told Rahman that since his factory had not been audited and certified by a special committee formed by the NBR and BUET, he could not benefit from the 1% tariff. Moreover, they also said that his company would be certified once all inputs, outputs and coefficients were measured. Each audit will cost between Tk 2.5 to 3 lakh. Only its machinery could benefit from a 1% tariff policy once certification is made, not the raw materials.

“There is a lack of communication because Hi-Tech never informed me of these policies or procedures that I had to follow. As I was successfully certified by Hi-Tech, I assumed that all official procedures were also over,” Rahman explained. .

When he contacted Hi-Tech about this inconvenience, Rahman claims that they sent chills down his spine and asked him to solve his own problems as it was no longer their headache.

However, the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) explained it differently. Bikarna Kumar Ghosh, Managing Director of BHTPA, said, “We are working on it. Although I’m not supposed to, I asked the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to help me find a solution for them.

Khairul Kabir Mia, First Secretary (Customs, International Trade and Agreement) of NBR said, “If BHTPA has not cooperated with them, it is not our fault. We have been true to our responsibilities. Still, if anyone has any suggestions, they can contact us. We are open to dialogue.

Still, after two years of struggle, Rahman is now optimistic that he will have a positive result by April. “The NBR has somehow realized that its policies do nothing but create barriers to the growth of IT businesses. ‘I’m the proverbial ‘guinea pig’ trying to ease the way for all,” said Rahman.

But couldn’t the businessman find another solution since there are already local technology companies that manufacture their own products? In response to this question, Rahman said, “It’s also difficult. For example, a big company like Walton can afford to pay Tk16 lakh for their certificate, but I can’t easily afford the Tk2.5 to 3lakh “, did he declare.

A frustrated Rahman added, “I don’t own a big business so I need more support. In Western countries, certification and audits are done for free to encourage small tech companies if they meet all the criteria.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

As a result, these same companies pay taxes and VAT once they start making a profit. But in Bangladesh, the situation is hostile to business because we are overcharged, which makes the process more expensive and complex.”

BHTPA’s Ghosh also agreed with Rahman’s comment. He thinks that BUET should not be the sole authority of the audit committee and rather a panel should be formed consisting of experts from the University of Dhaka and private universities. “That way the system will be more transparent, take less time and be affordable for investors,” Ghosh added.

To address these issues, Rahman believes communication remains key. For this, he thinks that people working in this sector should become more familiar with the policies and with each other. “Otherwise neither of them will ever reach a mutual solution,” he added.

While sharing his plan with The Business Standard, Rahman revealed that DMA plans to maintain a 60:40 ratio in local and international markets. “If everything goes according to my plan, we will export laptops to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Africa this year,” he said.

Rahman also expressed disappointment with how tech and mobile phone companies were treated differently. Many international mobile phone companies assemble their phones in Bangladesh, and the number keeps growing. But technology companies cannot take advantage of this because they fall under the IT section and have to fulfill many clauses.

He believed that tech manufacturing companies should also get similar treatment when assembling laptops and computers.

Rahman believes that if the current problems are resolved, Bangladesh will be home to high-tech manufacturing companies, including DMA.

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