Life Begins at 50!
Seven eminent Bangladeshi citizens give reasons why their country has won the race so far.
The Editor of South Asia graciously invited me to share my views on the reasons for the remarkable progress achieved by Bangladesh since its birth in 1971. I evasively decided instead, and without his advance knowledge, to take the liberty of seeking the valued views of friends in that same charming country. In addition to gaining the benefit of learning directly from the horse’s mouth --- actually, the mouths of six fine stallions and one beautiful mare --- readers are thus spared my own dubious thoughts.
My friends were invited to name 3 positives and 2 negatives. They were offered the option of being named. Or remain anonymous, for understandable reasons . One of them agreed to be identified. The others preferred non-Covid-19 masks . A broad but not rigid limit of words was set. One esteemed contributor boldy broke the word-barrier. As is this writer testing the Editor’s patience.
Each set of views placed below is, by turn, informative , reiterative, contrasting, similar, educative but always absorbing.
Let us begin with the views of Farooq Sobhan. He is an outstanding citizen of Bangladesh who has ably served as his country’s Foreign Secretary and is presently Distinguished Fellow at the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.
During the past 25 years Bangladesh’s average growth rate was 6%. In 2019 the growth rate was 8.2%. The rapid increase in the exports of ready-made garments, remittances and the phenomenal success of the agricultural and services sector, partly explains the impressive transformation of the country.
There has been a significant increase in the employment of women; today an estimated 25 million women are employed in the urban centres and self-employed in the rural areas. The various micro-credit programmes and success of the digitalization programmes across the country have made this possible. Female education, poverty reduction, improved infrastructure and the success of the family planning programme can be cited as other achievements. Looking back over the past 50 years, the Bangladesh story is indeed a remarkable one.
But the Covid pandemic could have a serious impact on the Bangladesh economy. Exports are down and 2021 could also see a significant drop in remittances. The big challenge for Bangladesh will be its ability to attract 10-12 billion dollars in FDI per annum over the next decade.
In order to do so the government will have to redouble its efforts to eliminate corruption, improve the efficiency of the bureaucracy and accelerate the development of high-quality infrastructure. But without question the single biggest challenge will be creating jobs for the two million young men and women entering the job market every year.
An eclectic entrepreneur who is also often away from Dhaka:
Bangladesh’s economic prosperity and exports growth can be traced to the following interlinked governance issues: Denial of political space to those who wish to impose their religious values on society and governance, resulting in empowered women with cascading positive impact on population control and increase in the urban workforce.
Wide access to microfinance, resulting in heightened food productivity by financially solvent and increasingly educated small landowner families, whose emergence as consumers has greatly enlarged the market for domestic manufactured products.
Strong emphasis on education, resulting in a workforce that has enabled entrepreneurs to attract foreign investment in higher-value products other than textiles.
On the negative side, growth is impeded by public interface and service delivery through a colonial-structure bureaucracy which is inconsistent with a rapidly modernizing economy that aims to fit in the global supply chain.