The economic growth would be meaningless unless there is good governance, said Akbar Ali Khan, former caretaker government adviser, yesterday.
“Governance is a must. Without it, people's rights cannot be ensured,” he said at a discussion titled “Can Bangladesh continue to grow without good governance?” at the capital's Lakeshore Hotel.
Economists, who spoke on the occasion, said the country will not be able to attain accelerated economic growth in the coming years without ensuring good governance.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) organised the discussion as part of its two-day annual event called BIDS Critical Conversations 2017 that kicked off yesterday with the theme “The Bangladesh Journey: Accelerating Transformations”.
BIDS Director General KAS Murshid at the inaugural session said Bangladesh has made a lot of progress in many areas, including poverty reduction, increase in life expectancy, education and health.
But the country faces problems like corruption, terrorist threat and growing religious intolerance, climate change, rapid urbanisation and educated unemployment, he added.
In his speech, Akbar Ali Khan said good governance is a “basic human right”.
Citing Amartya Sen's concept of Development as Freedom, he said the growth, whether it is 7 percent or 10 percent, would be meaningless unless there is good governance.
Development as Freedom is a 1999 book by the Nobel prize winner economist. Amartya Sen challenges the concept of gauging development by economic growth. He argues human development is about enhancing citizens' capabilities, and that freedom means raising their access to the things they need to value.
"We have to attain economic development. But, at the same time, we have to ensure governance," said Akbar.
He said it is seen in Bangladesh that economic development continues although governance deteriorates.
The reason is, he said, a country can attain growth without governance if it remains at the bottom of development. But when it reaches the middle stage, attaining growth becomes difficult without governance.
“Good governance will not come overnight given the current situation of Bangladesh. But if we take initiatives, we can be benefitted by the next 10-15 years,” added the economist.
“The more we can cut government's functions, the easier it will be to ensure good governance.”
Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre, said the current growth rate will continue.
“But growth acceleration seems very unlikely,” he said, citing over 6 percent growth rate and private investment at 21 percent of GDP.
“We want to be optimistic,” said Zillur, also former caretaker government adviser. But, he added, there is no scope to turn a blind eye to the real problems ahead.
A lot is discussed on economic growth rate but the least is discussed on outcomes of the growth, he further said. “Is it producing productive employment for educated youth, is it producing viability of farm income, is it producing sustainable cities?”
Prof Selim Raihan of Dhaka University economics department said four drivers -- garments, remittance, robust growth of agriculture and microcredit -- contributed to the steady growth of Bangladesh economy.
He said these drivers will continue to deliver for more days but there are challenges in these sectors, he said.
“So a big issue for political elites should be whether they can find new drivers for growth acceleration.”
He suggested increasing economic and trade integration with neighbouring countries and establishing special economic zones. The growth that comes from the existing drivers will face challenge after 8-10 years unless we get new ones, he said.
Mirza Hassan, adjunct fellow of Brac Institute of Governance and Development, Brac University, said he prefers democracy to growth.
He said Bangladesh had “pendulum shift” in politics. “We were in competitive politics between 1990 and 2013. From that we have gone to the system of dominant party settlement where one party calls the shots.”
At the inaugural session, Mohammed Farashuddin, former governor of Bangladesh Bank, said terrorism in the name of religion is very much related to infrastructure and development issue. This should be factored into the governance equation of the country, he said.