Looking ahead | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 01, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 01, 2009

Looking ahead

Our voice is powerful. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

AS a nation, we need to realise that we have the responsibility to create a future of reasonable economic opportunity for the 15 crore citizens of Bangladesh. Unless we have a capable, responsive, forward-looking, and credible polity, we shall face difficulty moving our development agenda forward.
As a nation, we talk about education and development, but our allocation on the national education budget hovers miserably close to a single digit percent, out of which a large proportion is allocated to construction. Our education system needs a fairly urgent overhaul and this task must not be delayed. The budget for innovative, adaptive and industry relevant learning has to be ensured.
Economic engines
While there is no clear barometer that can signal the health of Bangladesh, I propose a structure may be developed and a benchmark be set up on relevant areas to give an objective view of the economic condition of Bangladesh. This is essential in order for systemic development and critical economic analysis of the country.
Through a knowledge-based infrastructure and regular dissemination of research, Bangladesh can move forward, and these new technology supported research findings can work as objectively verifiable indicators, putting an end to emotional lashings of the political opposition, and also work as a guard against falling below a certain threshold.
Branding Bangladesh
In international domains, Bangladesh is often projected as a poor country having chronic natural calamities. While we have tidal waves and environmental disasters, we also have the courage to stand up and build on broken dreams. I believe we ought to create a "Bangladesh Connect" campaign and that the government and the private sector must together take up the task of uplifting our global image.
Bangladesh needs to begin its journey to change through putting the right resource persons in the right places and empowering them to take decisions, especially at the international consulate levels that are our windows to the world.
Every year we send many lakhs of people to the Middle East. Let us begin to educate and train these workers so that they produce incremental wage benefits and also position Bangladesh in a better light globally, impacting our national image.
Let us start upgrading our airports, railways, transport systems, especially the halls of bureaucracy by legislating better performance that is publicly accountable, and we will have made a giant leap forward in branding Bangladesh.
Bangladesh needs investment, finances, and entrepreneurial zeal -- let this government take a solemn pledge to reduce inflation and cost of finances for organic development to take place.
The large cities, especially Dhaka and Chittagong, are straining from huge population. More than 50% of all national activities are clustered around these two cities. This sends disturbing signals especially in times of natural and political turmoil. If the two cities are shut down, then the country suffers irreparable damage.
The newly elected government must emphasise finding a decentralised solution. Additionally, many believe that the development of Bangladesh lies in the development of its rural bases. Therefore, the government policy framers must initiate a national plan of networked cities with specialised services and attributes.
Looking globally, cities of the world are focusing and promoting as hubs of certain industry domains for competitive jockeying for economic positions and creation of employment and Bangladesh must begin to elevate its global understanding.
The government of Bangladesh must vigorously ensure SME financing at the rural communities and ensure that the funds are used in those communities. Similarly, the financial institutions must be strongly monitored so that rural branches are not used for funneling development within Dhaka and a few other metropolises.
Monetary policy
It is true that inflation has cut into our real wages and most affected were the lower middle class and the poorer community. Much of our consumption at almost all levels is import dependent, meaning we spend local currency to buy foreign currency (especially US dollar) to buy goods from overseas.
Now, if we strengthen our currency, then the cost of these imports will be cheaper and hence the burden on the local citizens will be lower for those who use a disproportionate amount of their income in buying necessities, many of which are imported. The appreciation of the taka will also reduce our cost of importing fabrics for re-export and capital machinery.
While the garments industry and overseas employment are two major foreign exchange earners, and appreciating the taka may create a small dent in their incomes, the overall national gains are significantly greater; therefore, a gradual but definitive appreciation of Bangladeshi taka makes strategic sense and will also work to tame inflation.
The government of Bangladesh has a strong inclination to hold foreign currency in US dollars. However, due to other currencies gaining momentum and becoming instruments of trade, I would urge the new government to encourage and hold trading in other currencies like Chinese yuan and euro.
In many development indexes the position of Bangladesh stays close to the bottom. As a country, we are not particularly trade savvy and focus heavily on a few business segments without much innovation in practice to build trade and trade linkages in other areas.
Business development through engaging trade bodies, businesses, and public and private stakeholders would be key in expanding our trade baskets. We must also realise that knowledge itself is a product and must have an accounting value when business lending is considered.
Research being of paramount importance globally, must also be given its due respect in Bangladesh and let the government undertake no projects with public finances without researching and validating the reasons behind their existence.
In conclusion, 2009 is the year for the elected government. Both contenders spoke of lofty ideals and objectives in their election manifestos and the public responded well by ensuring massive turnout in our most peaceful election.
Therefore, an appeal goes to the new government to work with a vision to change Bangladesh through inclusive, participatory, democratic and accountable governance, and to respect the voice of the people.

Ziaur Rahman is CEO, IITM.

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